Nepal: Oli Lost The Trust Vote, But May Still Have the Last Laugh

Nepal: Oli Lost The Trust Vote, But May Still Have the Last Laugh

by Jaideep Mazumdar - Tuesday, May 11, 2021 02:29 PM IST
Nepal: Oli Lost The Trust Vote, But May Still Have the Last LaughKhadga Prasad Sharma Oli (Flickr)
  • Oli is confident that Nepal is headed for mid-term polls a couple of months down the line. And if that happens, he can always tell the people of the country that he was the one who wanted to seek a fresh mandate by dissolving Parliament last year itself.

Nepal’s controversial Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli failed to win the confidence motion he had introduced in the Pratinidhi Sabha (the lower house of parliament) on Monday (10 April).

The fall of the Oli government has triggered hectic efforts to cobble together a coalition that can now stake claim to form the government.

The opposition--Nepali Congress, Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) and the Janata Samajbadi Party--have jointly urged President Bidya Devi Bhandari to invoke Article 76(2) of the Constitution to initiate the process of forming an alternative government.

But the opposition’s strenuous efforts to form a coalition government to keep Oli out of power may not bear fruit.

And ultimately, Nepal may be headed towards fresh polls. Which is exactly what Oli wanted when he dissolved Parliament in December last year.

But in end-February this year, Nepal’s Supreme Court overturned Oli's decision and reinstated Parliament.

Nepal’s apex court also triggered a political upheaval by annulling the merger of the Oli’s Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist) [CPN-UML] and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) [CPN-MC] that is led by Oli’s bete noire Pushpa Kamal Dahal, better known by his nom de guerre ‘Prachanda’ (the fierce one).

China had brokered the merger between the two parties in 2018. The two parties had announced an electoral alliance in October 2017 and subsequently merged in May the next year.

The merger led to the formation of the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) which unravelled after the Supreme Court verdict in early March this year annulling the merger.

The NCP(UML) won 121 seats and the CPN(MC) bagged 49 seats in the elections to the Pratinidhi Sabha held in December 2017. After the merger of the two parties, Oli and Dahal became the co-chairs of the newly-formed NCP.

By virtue of being the head of the larger constituent of the NCP, Oli became the Prime Minister. But his unbridled ambition to concentrate all powers in his own hands, and his desire to completely sideline Dahal, led to a bruising power play breaking out between the two in less than a year.

Oli’s abrasive attitude and inability to adopt a consensual approach in decision-making also alienated many senior leaders within his own party (the erstwhile CPN-UML).

Some of them, notably former Prime Ministers Madhav Kumar Nepal and Jhala Nath Khanal joined hands with Dahal to oppose Oli.

The infighting within the ruling party took a serious turn from mid-2020 and despite many efforts by Beijing, no rapprochement could be reached between Oli and his detractors, primarily Dahal.

Oli surprised everyone in December last year by dissolving Parliament and announcing a two-phase mid-term polls for April 30 and May 10 this year.

Oli did so because he was confident that the Opposition was fragmented and the people of his country, fed up with political uncertainty, would give him a clear mandate in mid-term polls.

Oli had planned to campaign on the plank of stable and strong governance. “He (Oli) felt that the people of Nepal will opt for a strong leader who can steer the country in a decisive manner,” Kathmandu University political science professor Anil Shreshtha told Swarajya over phone from Kathmandu.

After his game plan to dissolve Parliament and call for fresh elections was defeated by the Supreme Court, Oli started planning for a show of strength in Parliament.

Knowing that the CPN-MC would not stand with him, he reached out to Nepali Congress (NC) chief Sher Bahadur Deuba with whom he shared a good rapport, and to the Janata Samajbadi Party (JSP) that has 32 MPs in Parliament.

Dahal also reached out to the NC and JSP to urge them to move a no-confidence motion against Oli.

But Deuba remained non-committal while the JSP developed cracks with one faction led by chairman Mahant Thakur favouring a tie-up with Oli and another led by Upendra Yadav and Baburam Bhattarai vehemently opposed to Oli.

Oli’s own party, the CPN-UML, also developed fissures with the faction led by Madhav Kumar Nepal and Jhala Nath Khanal indicating that it would break away.

The Nepal-Khanal group has 28 MPs in its fold. Oli had planned to expel them from the party and recommend their expulsion from Parliament as well, but shelved his plans because the effective strength of the Pratinidhi Sabha would have come down from 271 to 243, thus handing an advantage to the CPN(MC) and NC.

The NC has 61 MPs and the CPN (MC) has 49 MPs. The 32 MPs belonging to the JSP are evenly divided between the two camps within the party.

Oli waited for a few weeks for Dahal and other opposition leaders to make their move. But they shied away from tabling a no-confidence motion against Oli.

Ultimately, last week, Oli declared his intention to move a confidence motion in the lower house of Parliament on May 10.

Following this, Dahal’s CPN(MC) decided to withdraw support to the Oli government. The Nepal-Khanal group within the CPN(UML) first decided to resign en masse from Parliament, but then had second thoughts and ultimately decided to abstain from voting in the confidence motion.

“For Oli, it has been a win-win situation. If he would have won the trust vote, he would have continued in power and even entrenched himself. And in case he lost (which he did), then he knew that the opposition parties would find it very difficult to muster the numbers and form an alternative government. Ultimately, the President would have to dissolve Parliament,” said Kathmandu University’s Shrestha.

Political commentator C.K.Lal was quoted in this article in The Kathmandu Post: “What happened today (May 10) was part of Oli’s design. Given the voting pattern, it looks like things are moving the way Oli wants them to move. Now the onus to form a new government and unseat him lies with the opposition parties, but they cannot do so”.

The confidence motion was supported by 93 MPs (Oli’s group in the CPN-UML) and opposed by 124 MPs while 15 MPs (belonging to the Mahant Thakur group of the JSP) stayed neutral and 28 MPs of the Nepal-Khanal group of the CPN-UML abstained.

Any party or coalition that forms the government now will have 30 days to prove its majority in the Pratinidhi Sabha that has an effective strength of 271 MPs now. Thus, the support of 136 MPs is required to form a government and survive a trust vote.

But that number (136) is proving to be elusive. More so after JSP chairman Mahant Thakur announced Monday night that he will not be part of any government formation process.

The combined strength of the NC and the CPN(MC) is 110 and they need the support of an additional 26 MPs to form the government.

But only the Upendra Yadav-Baburam Bhattarai faction of the JSP (15 MPs) is willing to extend support to the government-formation efforts of the NC and CPN-MC.

One way out is to get all the 28 MPs of the Nepal-Khanal faction of the CPN-UML to resign from the Pratinidhi Sabha.

The strength of the House then comes down to 243 and the opposition would then require the support of 122 MPs to form a stable government.

The combined strength of the NC, CPN-MC and the Yadav-Bhattarai faction of the JSP is 125. That will give this formation a slight majority in the lower House.

But the Nepal-Khanal faction of the CPN-UML is unwilling to play ball and get all its MPs to resign en masse.

“If they resign from Parliament, they will have no skin in the game and will have no stake in any government. They will completely cut themselves off from the political process then. There is thus no reason for them to sacrifice their own interests just to benefit the opposition parties and enable them to form the government,” said Shrestha.

In case no party or coalition stakes claim to form the government, or if such a government cannot prove its majority within 30 days, President Bhandari will have to call on Oli (as head of the single-largest party in Parliament) to form the government again and prove its majority within 30 days.

But Oli will fail once again to muster majority support. Under the Constitution, the President will then have to dissolve Parliament and call for fresh elections.

Oli is well aware of all this and is, thus, sitting back and watching his adversaries planning various moves that may not, ultimately, bear fruit.

Oli is confident that Nepal is headed for mid-term polls a couple of months down the line. And if that happens, he can always tell the people of the country that he was the one who wanted to seek a fresh mandate by dissolving Parliament last year itself.

Had the Supreme Court not intervened and overturned his decision, Nepal would have been spared the prevailing political uncertainty and would have been able to handle the Covid-induced pandemic much more effectively.

That will place Oli in a very strong position when elections are held. And Oli will then have the last laugh.

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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