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Amid a Raging Pandemic, a Political Crisis is Unfolding in Next-door Nepal

File photo of KP Sharma Oli.

File photo of KP Sharma Oli.

Just when the government and different political parties were required to make united effort in fight against COVID-19, they are struggling for power and positions.

In a major development on May 21, Bidya Devi Bhandari, President of Nepal, at the recommendation of Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli dissolved the House of Representatives (HoR), and declared the dates of mid-term polls to be held on November 12 and 19 respectively, almost two years before its expiry. The decision to hold elections in November in two phases was taken as per Article 76 (7) of the Nepalese Constitution following the event in which Prime Minister Oli, the leader of the Communist Party of Nepal–Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML) failed to prove the majority in the House. PM Oli recommended House dissolution as he felt that the opposition group within his party, CPN-UML, and other parties did not allow his government to function smoothly.

It is for the second time amidst the growing cases of coronavirus in the country that President Bhandari at the recommendation of Prime Minister Oli has dissolved the Nepalese Parliament; the first time she dissolved it was on December 20, 2020. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court later on in its verdict had reinstated the dissolved Parliament.

The crisis peaked on May 21, when Prime Minister Oli claimed to have the support of 153 members of the Parliament which included 121 MPs from his party and 32 from the Janata Samajbadi Party (JSP). On the other hand, the Nepali Congress leader, Sher Bahadur Deuba, came out with the list of 149 MPs: 61 from his party, 48 from the Maoist Centre, 27 from Madhav Kumar Nepal faction of the CPN-UML, and 13 from the Upendra Yadav faction of JSP.

Either side needed only 136 votes of the 271-member House to form the government. But when the number of votes of the Oli and Deuba sides was added, it was found to be 302, which exceeded the total number of MPs of the House. Taking advantage of these loopholes, President Bidya Devi Bhandari dissolved the House and announced the dates of the parliamentary elections.

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India finds the dissolution of HoR as the country’s internal affairs. In a statement on the issue, the Ministry of External Affairs of India clarified, “We view these as internal matters of Nepal to be dealt by them under their domestic framework and democratic processes.”

Sporadic cases of protests against the dissolution of Parliament by the student’s wing of Nepali Congress and by cadets of other opposition political parties have been reported in Kathmandu, Japakpur, and other parts of the country.

Also, writ petitions have been filed by 146 lawmakers of the Nepalese Parliament in the Supreme Court against the cabinet’s decision to dissolve the House and for not making Sher Bahadur Deuba the Prime Minister of the country. On the other hand, a few writ petitions have also been filed in the same court in favour of Prime Minister Oli’s stand. It is, yet, to be seen as to what verdict the Supreme Court of Nepal gives the second time concerning the House dissolution by Prime Minister Oli. But some of the steps that he has taken have already led to long-term implications in the political arena.

The CPN-UML leader Oli commanded the support of nearly two-thirds of MPs in the 275-member HoR in the general elections in 2017, when he had the backing of Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda. There was an understanding between the two leaders, Oli was expected to remain the Prime Minister for the first two-and-a-half years followed by Prachanda during the second half of the term. It was on this ground that the two leaders even merged their political parties in the first place, the CPN-UML and the Communist Party of Nepal–Maoist Centre in May 2018 and the new party Nepal Communist Party (NCP) was thus formed.

Subsequently, the rivalry between Prime Minister Oli and Prachanda intensified when the latter was not allowed to become the Prime Minister during the second half of the tenure as per the earlier understanding. On March 7 this year, the NCP met a major setback when the Supreme Court revived the erstwhile CPN-UML and the Maoist Centre by scrapping the NCP. By this jolt, the alliance of the Oli-led CPN-UML and Prachanda-led Maoist Centre was broken.

Another jolt to the communists came on the crucial day of May 21 when Prime Minister Oli of the CPN-UML and Sher Bahadur Deuba of Nepali Congress submitted their candidature for the Prime Minister position before the President. On this occasion, Madhav Kumar Nepal with the signature of 27 MPs from CPN-UML supported the candidature of Sher Bahadur Deuba of the Nepali Congress who also got the support of other political parties, including the Maoist Centre and Upendra Yadav-led faction of JSP. This last incident in which Madhav Kumar Nepal stood firmly under the banner of Sher Bahadur Deuba instead of supporting Prime Minister Oli, the leader of his party, this led to the further breakdown of CPN-UML. There are reports that a new party under Madhav Kumar Nepal is registered with Nepal’s Election Commission.

Another important development in Nepalese politics has been the growing rift between the Mahanth Thakur-led faction and the Upendra Yadav-led faction of the Madhesh-based JSP. Recent incidents exhibit that the Thakur-led faction of the JSP directly or indirectly supported Prime Minister Oli; while his rival faction in the party led by Upendra Yadav who has left leanings allied with the Nepali Congress, Maoist Centre, and Madhav Kumar-led faction of CPN-UML. Because of this development, the two factions of the JSP are likely to get split. The communists and JSP are breaking because they have neither strong ideological conviction nor a political foundation.

Unfortunately, at a time when the government and different political parties were needed to make united and coordinated efforts in their fight against COVID-19 in the country, they are struggling for power and positions. Casualties caused by COVID-19 in the country could worsen if political rallies and other activities of the political parties intensify in the course of elections. Since the ball is now in the court of Nepal’s Supreme Court, only time will tell if the House will be reinstated again and whether the country will get a new Prime Minister. In this hour of crisis, what is expected from the different political parties is to wait for the Supreme Court’s verdict to be made and do whatever is within their means to address COVID-19 pandemic.

This article was first published on ORF.

Disclaimer:The author is a Visiting Fellow at ORF. Views expressed are personal.

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