Despite Apex Court Restoring Parliament, Nepal’s Political Crisis Is Far From Over

Jaideep Mazumdar

Feb 26, 2021, 04:46 PM | Updated 04:44 PM IST

K P Sharma Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal.
K P Sharma Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal.
  • Nepal’s best bet could be fresh polls, which many experts say is most likely to yield a fractured mandate, in which case political stability will continue to elude Nepal.
  • Though Nepal’s Supreme Court struck down Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli’s dissolution of the 275-member lower house of Parliament earlier this week, the political and constitutional crises that the Himalayan nation is facing for the last one year is far from over.

    In fact, the crises could actually intensify with the Supreme Court-mandated session of the lower house set to be held on 8 March.

    That’s because the country’s Election Commission is yet to decide which faction of the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) — the one led by Oli or the one led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Madhav Kumar Nepal — as the legitimate NCP.

    Soon after Oli dissolved the lower house of Parliament on 20 December last year after months of bruising and rancorous power struggle with Dahal, the Dahal faction expelled Oli from the NCP and appointed Nepal as the party’s co-chair.

    The faction led by Oli also expelled some party functionaries belonging to the Dahal camp and moved the Election Commission to get recognition as the NCP.

    There is also no clarity on what the two opposition parties — the Nepali Congress (NC) and the Janata Samajbadi Party (JSP) — will do when the house meets on 8 March.

    The NC and the JSP have been approached by Oli and the Dahal-Nepal camp to support their respective factions during a floor test that is inevitable on 8 March.

    The NC has decided to wait and watch the developments in both factions of the NCP while the JSP said it will take a decision only after clarity emerges on the contesting claims by the two NCP factions.

    In the 275-member lower house (known as the Pratinidhi Sabha), the NCP has 173 members, the NC as the principal opposition has 63 seats while the JSP has 32 seats.

    The Dahal-Nepal faction of the NCP claims the support of 88 to 90 MPs while Oli commands the loyalty of 82 to 84 MPs.

    The Dahal-Nepal faction plans to move a no-confidence motion against Oli as soon as the House sits on 8 March.

    For the motion to get passed, the Dahal-Nepal faction needs the support of 138 MPs. Support from the NC, thus, is essential to oust Oli from the Prime Minister’s seat.

    Many lawmakers belonging to the Dahal-Nepal faction have been demanding Oli’s resignation before the House convenes on 8 March as ordered by the Supreme Court.

    “After the ruling by the Supreme Court’s Constitutional Bench overturning Oli’s decision to dissolve the Pratinidhi Sabha, Oli has lost all moral right to remain the Prime Minister and should step down gracefully,” Narayan Kaji Shrestha, a spokesperson of the group led by Dahal and Nepal, told Swarajya over phone from Kathmandu.

    Oli’s press advisor Surya Thapa told Swarajya that the Prime Minister will face the House “confidently” and is sure of winning any confidence vote.

    Oli, it is learnt, is playing his cards close to his chest. Oli is also wooing the NC and the JSP.

    The Dahal-Nepal faction has reportedly promised NC that its leader, Sher Bahadur Deuba, will be made the Prime Minister in return for NC’s support for the no-confidence motion against Oli.

    Oli met Deuba soon after the Supreme Court ruling on Tuesday (23 February). Dahal met Deuba on Wednesday.

    “We will take a stand only when there is clarity on the status of the NCP. Will the split in the NCP be formally recognised by the Election Commission? Will the NCP move to replace Oli as its parliamentary leader on 8 March instead of moving the no-confidence motion? Till things get cleared, we will not spell out our stand,” said NC leader and former deputy prime minister Ram Chandra Poudel.

    Opinion within the NC is divided on which faction to support. Some senior NC leaders argue that it would be in the party’s interests to go with Oli because the former Nepal Communist Party (Maoist) which Dahal headed had targeted the NC in the past.

    Others say that public opinion is in favour of Dahal and supporting the Dahal-Nepal faction to oust Oli from power would be the right thing to do.

    Yet another powerful group within the NC feel that the party should remain neutral and be equidistant from both the NCP factions.

    “The infighting within the NCP and the open squabble for power among its leaders has eroded public support for the communist party. If we do not support any of the two factions, it will lead to a deadlock in the Pratinidhi Sabha and the House will then have to be dissolved and fresh elections called. Our party will be the beneficiary if fresh elections are held,” said a senior NC leader.

    The JSP, on its part, wants a commitment on amending the Constitution and freeing some of its jailed leaders before pledging its support to either NCP faction.

    The Dahal-Nepal faction has reportedly offered ministerial berths to the JSP in return for the latter’s support for the no-confidence motion against Oli.

    But some senior JSP leaders like Mahanta Thakur are against the party taking sides in the power struggle within the NCP. “We should allow the infighting within the NCP to continue so that it becomes very weak. In the next elections, we will then win many seats,” said Thakur.

    But other leaders like Upendra Yadav and Baburam Bhattarai feel that being part of the government and wielding power is important and would strengthen the party.

    All eyes are, however, on Oli who has perhaps the strongest appetite for power.

    NC leaders who met Oli recently said that Oli appeared quite confident of remaining the Prime Minister.

    Oli’s trusted lieutenants are in close touch with many NC and JSP leaders. “Being the PM makes a lot of difference and Oli is in a much better position to apply various sorts of pressures on rivals as well as opposition leaders. One never knows what he will do to retain power and that makes everyone nervous and edgy. That also works to Oli’s advantage,” said political commentator Subhash Pokharel.

    Political experts say that if the Nepali Congress remains neutral and does not support any of the two NCP factions, it would lead to a stalemate.

    “Neither Oli nor Dahal-Nepal will be able to form a government without the NC’s support. And then the only way out would be to invoke Article 76(7) of the Constitution and dissolve the House. Oli will then be a caretaker Prime Minister and fresh elections will be held under his caretaker government. That would also give Oli a significant electoral advantage,” said Pokharel.

    And in case Oli is removed and a coalition government comprising the NC, and JSP and the NCP’s Dahal-Nepal faction comes to power, such a government will lack stability due to the contradictory and conflicting agendas of its constituents.

    Given all this, the political uncertainty in Nepal seems set to continue. The country’s best bet, perhaps, would be fresh polls.

    But fresh polls, say many experts, is most likely to yield a fractured mandate. In which case, political stability will continue to elude Nepal.

    Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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