Opinion

Power tussle keeps Nepal in turmoil

There is interest in knowing whether the developments in Nepal would turn out to be favourable for India with pointers of Oli’s dependence on an India-friendly grouping of MPs and his amendment, through an ordinance, of the citizenship law to benefit children born to Indian mothers, a long-standing demand in the Terai. On the other hand, the Nepali Congress has traditional ties with India. How things turn out, only time will tell, but Chinese activism would have to reboot.

Even Covid-19 has not kept Nepal’s politicians under lockdown or focused on handling the second wave of the pandemic. Instead, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli remains continuously engaged in retaining power by any means.

In December 2020, President Bidya Devi Bhandari, who is from the same party as Oli, simply accepted his recommendation and dissolved the Parliament’s House of Representatives even though it had more than two years of its life and the ruling party commanded a near two-thirds majority. Oli took this step because he was outflanked within the ruling Nepal Communist Party and was unwilling to share power with other powerful leaders in his party. But the Supreme Court of Nepal, in February 2021, restored the House.

However, matters were compounded when in another matter soon thereafter, the Supreme Court ruled that the merger of the erstwhile UML (Unified Marxist-Leninist Communist Party of Nepal), led by Oli, and the Maoist Centre of former PM Prachanda, that had established the Nepal Communist Party (NCP), was invalid. The UML’s own numbers in the 275 member House of Representatives were now only 121, below the half-way mark of 136. Moreover, the UML is itself split with a faction led by former PMs, Madhav Kumar Nepal and Jaganath Khanal, controlling 20-plus MPs and strongly opposed to Oli. Strange as it may appear, but this judgment helped Oli stage a split in his party as the Nepal/Khanal faction are not able to muster the required 40% in both the parliamentary party and the central committee of the political party, something that was possible in the unified NCP with the inclusion of the Maoists.

The main opposition in the House of Representatives is the Nepali Congress with 63 MPs followed by the Maoist Centre with 49 MPs, which has withdrawn support from PM Oli. The other group of around 32 MPs is the Janata Samajbadi Party, essentially a party of MPs from the Madhesh. They are also divided with one faction, led by Mahant Thakur and Rajendra Mahato, which is said to be “friends of India”, supporting Oli while the other led by Upendra Yadav being in the opposition. For many, the situation appears to be a case of the Rest versus Oli, backed by friends of India.

Pursuant to the resurrection of the House, Oli sought a vote of confidence on May 10 but lost securing only 93 votes out of the 232 cast. As per Nepal’s Constitution, had May 10 been on a vote of no-confidence moved by the opposition with the name of an alternate leader, the reappointment of Oli as PM would not have been possible. But this not being the case and no one else laying claim, he was put back in the saddle as the leader of the largest political party. However, he expressed his inability to prove majority and the President’s office put out a notice around 7 pm on May 20, asking any MP capable of obtaining majority to make his/her claim by 5 pm on May 21.

Thereafter, drama followed as Oli now claimed the support of 153 MPs based on a self-declaration as leader of the full strength of his party, UML, and that of Mahant Thakur, the Chair of the Janata Samajbadi Party. At the same time, the leader of the Nepali Congress, former PM Sher Bahadur Deuba, also laid claim after cobbling together a coalition including the Maoists, the Upendra Yadav-led faction of the Janata Samajbadi Party and around 20 MPs from the UML producing, as per reports, signatures of 149 MPs.

In most parliamentary democracies, either floor tests would follow or at least some attempts to verify the loyalties of the MPs, but once again setting aside good constitutional practises, the President, at 2 am on May 22, dissolved the House of Representatives for the second time in six months. And Oli remains the PM till the General Elections, announced for mid-November 2021 but which many believe will get stretched to next year under the pretext of Covid-19. Obviously, party politics had trumped everything else. Ironically, staying interim PM, without parliamentary accountability, is what Oli had sought in December 2020.

The dissolution has been challenged in the Supreme Court of Nepal with several petitions by legal luminaries, but also one signed by 146 MPs (3 less than the 149 that supported Deuba — likely to have been lured away). Even though in February 2021, the court had not allowed dissolution, there may be some ambiguities on what constitutes support in the House — of political parties or individual MPs and on applicability of party whips. Incidentally, as a political compromise, a sitting Chief Justice has once become an interim PM in Nepal to ensure a level playing field and fair elections!

There is obvious interest in knowing whether the developments in Nepal would turn out to be favourable for India with pointers of Oli’s dependence on an India-friendly grouping of MPs and his amending, through an ordinance, the citizenship law to benefit children born to Indian mothers, a long-standing demand in the Terai. On the other hand, the Nepali Congress has traditional ties with India. How things turn out, only time will tell, including the outcome in the Supreme Court, but Chinese activism in Nepali politics, which had become quite visible through 2020, would have to reboot. Of course, this should not be taken to mean that the influence and ability to get things done by Nepal’s northern neighbour will not continue.

For too long having been the target of finger-pointing in Nepal, India’s Foreign Ministry has viewed the happenings “as internal matters of Nepal to be dealt by them under their own domestic framework and democratic processes”. This is diplomatically correct, but India’s engagement with Nepal needs to be strengthened, given the security interests, trade links, civilisational and people ties, and in today’s time, the need for strong collaboration on Covid-19, apart from climate change, especially in the Himalayan region, and on water. (The writer is Former Ambassador to Nepal)

source : https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/comment/power-tussle-keeps-nepal-in-turmoil-260011) Sunday, 30 May 2021

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