No political pundit believed that the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) that was formed after the merger of the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML), headed by K.P. Sharma Oli, and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist-Centre), led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal, on the eve of the elections in 2018 would split within three years. But it turned into reality after President Bidya Devi Bhandari — at the recommendation of the federal government headed by PM K.P. Sharma Oli — dissolved the House of Representatives (HoR), the lower House of Nepalese parliament on 20 December, 2020, and declared the dates of the election to the HoR on 30 April and 10 May, 2021.
However, 12 writ petitions have also been filed in the Supreme Court to quash the act of dissolving the federal parliament. Besides, the move to dissolve the parliament is being opposed by the leaders of Dahal-led faction of NCP, apart from the Nepali Congress and the Janata Samajbadi Party in different parts of Nepal. Significantly, the Oli-led faction of the NCP expelled Pushpa Kamal Dahal from the party through a disciplinary action; while the Dahal-led faction expelled Oli from the party. Also, the Dahal-led faction declared Madhav Kumar Nepal, former Prime Minister, as chairman of the NCP. It also declared Pushpa Kamal Dahal as the parliamentary party leader in the HoR. Each of the factions claims to be a legitimate party and, for this, they approached the Election Commission to register the changes in the party structure. The legal status of the party as to which one of the two factions is the real heir will be decided by the Election Commission. Nepal’s Political Parties Act stipulates that any faction in the party can register as a new party provided it has at least 40 per cent members of the Central Committee and 40 per cent of the Parliamentary Party members on its side.
Recently, the Oli and Nepal-Dahal factions organised Central Committee meetings of the NCP separately at two different locations in Kathmandu. Each of them claims to have majority members in the Central Committee of the party. Oli found it increasingly difficult to work as the Dahal-Nepal faction had the majority in all-party committees, including the Secretariat, the Standing Committee, and the Central Committee. The party was on the brink of breaking apart even before this, but it is believed that the Chinese Ambassador to Nepal, Hou Yangqi, mediated between the two leaders, and thus saved the party from the split. Relations between the two chairmen, Oli and Dahal, of the NCP never remained smooth even after the merger of the two parties in 2018. The power tussle, especially between the two supremos, spoiled the working environment at all levels of administration.
Initially, the two chairmen of the NCP had agreed that each of them would be Prime Minister of the country for two-and-half years during the five-year tenure of the government. Because of the merger of the two parties, the NCP not only won close to a two-thirds majority in the HoR in 2018, but it also formed governments in six out of the seven provinces and most of the local bodies like the municipalities/village councils in the country. Despite the massive support from the public, the NCP could contribute very little to the economic development of the country. Corruption remained rampant at each level of the administration. The government utterly failed to address the spread of COVID-19 and soured its relations with its traditional neighbour, India. In such a chaotic situation, the impact of the mid-term elections on the economy, which is already in poor shape, is likely to be aggravated.
About NRs. 8 billion was spent on conducting the parliamentary and provincial elections in 2018, but this time the cost of elections could escalate to up to NRs. 30 billion. Since the forthcoming elections have come as a surprise and no amount was allotted for this purpose in the budget of 2020-21, it is through the development budget that this cost will be borne. The official reaction from the neighbouring countries on the political developments in Nepal has not yet come. Yet, media reports confirm that the southern neighbour, India, treats the recent split of the NCP and the dissolution of the parliament entirely as the country’s internal affair; while the northern neighbour, China, seems to be worried about the development.
China does not seem to be comfortable with the way the NCP has been split and the dates of the forthcoming elections has been declared. Its efforts to unite the former Oli-led CPN-UML and the Dahal-led CPN (Maoist Centre) to promote its interests in Nepal through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and other means could meet setbacks if the elections to the HoR are held in April-May. This is because each of these two factions would fight the parliamentary elections against each other, which would make both of them losers. However, of these two factions, the Oli-led group of the NCP could be a lesser loser than the other faction because it has the advantage of enjoying state power.
Analysts often relate the recent political tsunami in Nepal as the fallout of the Indo-China rivalry. It could be a coincidence that the NCP was split immediately after the visit of India’s top brass to Nepal. Just within five weeks in October-November 2020, Samant Goel, the Chief of India’s spy agency, RAW, visited Nepal, followed by the visit of Indian Army Chief, MM Naravane, and Foreign Secretary, Harsh Vardhan Shringla.
As soon as Shringla completed his two-day visit to Nepal on 26 November, China’s Defence Minister, Wei Fenghe, landed in Kathmandu on 28 November. Thereafter, China’s ambassador to Nepal, Hou Yanqui, who played an important role in uniting the two factions of the NCP in May, also intensified her parleys with influential political leaders of the country, apart from the President of Nepal, Bidya Devi Bhandari. In the meantime, China also sent Guo Yezhou, Vice Minister of the International Department of the Chinese Communist Party to Kathmandu who met the leaders of both the two factions of the NCP, President Bidya Devi Bhandari, and the opposition Nepali Congress leader, Sher Bahadur Deuba.
The political crisis is peaking up at a time when people’s disenchantment with the present federal republican system is growing in the country. For quite some time, the voices in favour of declaring Nepal a Hindu state and restoring the monarchical institution is growing in various parts of the country. The constitution of the country that was promulgated in 2015 would have to be changed if the federal structure is denounced, the monarchical institution is revived, and the country is declared a Hindu state.
The political crisis in Nepal is not likely to be settled soon as the government headed by PM Oli is determined to hold the elections to the HoR in April-May while the Dahal-Nepal led faction of the NCP, apart from the Nepali Congress and the Terai-based Janata Samajbadi Party, is pressurising the government to withdraw its decision to dissolve the parliament. Restoration of the dissolved parliament does not seem to be in the offing, though attempts are still being made in this direction and also to unite the NCP. In such a moment, it is the responsibility of each political party to rise to the occasion by seeking people’s mandate in the forthcoming mid-term elections of HoR, and, thereby, giving a new direction to the country.
Hari Bansh Jha @haribanshjha is a visiting fellow at the Observer Research Foundation. Views are personal.
The article first appeared on the Observer Research Foundation website.