“The President has dissolved the House of Representatives and ordered the first phase of General Elections on November 12 and the second phase on November 19”, the President of Nepal Bidhya Devi Bhandari announced on May 22, 2021 as neither the caretaker Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli nor the opposition leader Sher Bahadur Deuba were able to demonstrate a majority in the floor of the Nepalese Parliament by the Presidential deadline of May 21.
The month-long political turmoil amidst a raging Covid pandemic reporting more than 8,000 infections on average, each day has further complicated the mandate. Its culmination has brought forth the domestic political upheaval of one of India's geographically and socio-politically relevant neighbours. It is said that the decision is nothing but a result of the cabinet headed by the caretaker Prime Minister K P Oli, whose December 2020 dissolution of the Parliament had ignited demonstrations and was later reversed by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional in February. Further, opposition leaders have questioned the legitimacy of Oli's recommendation as he himself had been unable to garner majority support in the Parliament.
What Led to the Political Turmoil?
Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli's Nepal Communist Party had won the Parliamentary elections in late 2017 and he was nominated by the Parliament to head the government as the Nepalese Prime Minister in early 2018. On May 13, K P Sharma Oli was reappointed as Prime Minister as the leader of the largest block with 121 seats in the House of Representatives after the opposition parties failed to form a government that would have required 136 seats. Oli was given 30 days to win a vote of confidence. The Nepali Congress on the other hand had 63 seats and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Center) led by Oli's opponent Pushpa Kumar Dahal had 54 seats.
The roots of the turmoil can be traced back to December 28, 2020, when Oli had, for the first time in his tenure, recommended dissolution of the lower Parliament and it was almost as if a mirror image of the events of May 2021, the President approved it promptly. It ended the left unity that had coalesced to form the Nepal Communist Party.
The situation was the culmination of a factional feud within the party. In February, Oli himself was expelled from the ruling Communist Party. The Maoist faction of the Nepal Communist Party was led by Prachanda. He had led the Maoist insurgency for a decade between 1996 to 2006 before joining mainstream politics. Oli was one of the primary critics of the Maoist political violence responsible for the death of 17,000 individuals. However, Oli had approached the Maoist faction in 2017 for a merger between their parties, preempting the possibility of an alliance between the Maoists and the Nepali Congress that would have come as a hindrance to Oli's prime ministerial ambitions.
Oli, who was then leading the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist), and Prachanda’ Maoist faction had agreed that they would lead the government by turn, however, the former turned his back upon the promise at the end of two-and-a-half years, thus sowing the seeds of a split. The Election Commission refused to recognise the split in the ruling party between the factions of the Prime Minister and that of Prachanda and Madhav Kumar.
The Future of the Constitution and the Army
While Nepal is no stranger to a dissolution of the Parliament, it was the first such instance after the adoption of the 2015 Constitution that had placed safeguards against such a dissolution. The guarantee is enshrined in the idea that the new Constitution does not envisage dissolution without exploring the possibility of forming an alternative government. The 1991 Constitution which was scrapped in 2006 contained provisions for dissolution of Parliament at the Prime Minister’s prerogative. It had witnessed three dissolutions during its period of operation. The first Parliament elected in 1991 was dissolved on the recommendation of Prime Minister G P Koirala after he had failed to have a vote of thanks motion by the King passed in the House. The Supreme Court had upheld that dissolution.
However in 1995, the Nepali Supreme Court had rejected the dissolution by Prime Minister Manmohan Adhikary after a no-trust motion had been tabled against him before the loss of majority was proved. The Court had advanced the argument that the executive did not have the jurisdiction over an issue under the purview of the legislature. In 2002, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba had dissolved the Parliament and the Supreme Court had upheld the verdict. The role of the army too was believed to be a crucial one in deciding the course of events. It had made it clear that they would remain neutral in the political developments in the Parliaments. This ensured that had Oli tried to rule with the help of security forces to maintain law and order and to curb dissent and the protesters, the army's support would be highly unlikely to be gained.
The Way Ahead
The roots of all this political instability and the fact that Nepal has since 1951 not witnessed a single government completing its full term may be attributed to four factors: the first being a fragmented polity as no political party is devoid of internal factions and the leadership is not in full control of its cadres. Secondly, political cronyism, nepotism, fragile political and constitutional institutions suffer from both the lack of democratic experience and guidance. The highly ambitious, intensely power-driven political leadership’s unwillingness to share power and the interfering role of external stakeholders and immediate neighbours including China have all contributed to the current upheaval.
The impact of all this on international relations equations is obviously significant. Hou Yanki, the Chinese Ambassador in Nepal made attempts at patching up the differences between Oli and his detractors to maintain the stability of the Communist Party of Nepal. After her failed endeavours, the four-member high powered delegation led by Guo Yezhou, Vice President of the Chinese Communist Party’s internal division visited Nepal last December.
As Nepalese politics lie scrambled, many observers believe that the present crisis has opened up political space and given a fresh lease of life to previously redundant forces to reclaim their share in the power structure. Notable among them is the combination of Hindutva and the overthrown monarchy which had been staging massive demonstrations all over Kathmandu since January. Their primary demands include the revival of the monarchy and the creation of a Hindu state. As the current dissolution has been challenged in Court by five political parties including the Nepali Congress, Janata Samajwadi Party and several dissidents from Oli’s own UML Party, another faction of the JSP led by Madhesi leader Mahanta Thakur has extended his support to Oli in return for seven ministerial berths.
It remains to be seen as to who wins the game of musical chairs at the Nepalese Parliament.
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