New Delhi: Nepal plunged into yet another political crisis Sunday after Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli dissolved the 275-member House of Representatives — the lower house of the country’s Parliament.
The move comes in the wake of an ongoing power tussle in the ruling Nepal Communist Party, and Oli is believed to have taken this step as a last resort after losing majority support.
According to Article 85 (1) and Article 76 (7) of the Constitution of Nepal, the lower house, called the ‘Pratinidhi Sabha’, has a term of five years unless dissolved earlier. However, there is no provision in the Constitution that allows the Prime Minister, who is leading the two-thirds majority government, to dissolve it unilaterally. As a result, several opposition parties have taken to the streets to protest against PM Oli’s decision, the first dissolution in the democratic history of the country.
According to sources in Nepal’s political establishment, Oli’s decision was a knee-jerk reaction. The PM recommended the dissolution of the house by calling an emergency meeting of the cabinet early Sunday morning, before forwarding the proposal to President Bidya Devi Bhandari.
Saturday night, Oli is believed to have visited the rival faction’s leaders including former PMs Pushp Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ and Madhav Nepal, as well as Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa, but they could not arrive at a solution.
The matter is now pending before Nepal’s Supreme Court. If the court finds that Oli’s decision violated constitutional provisions, he will have to resign as prime minister. If not, the interim government will continue till the next elections that have been scheduled in two phases on 30 April and 10 May.
Split in ruling NCP ‘inevitable’
While Oli’s decision was seen as drastic by many, experts tracking Nepal politics believe that it was an expected move.
Vijay Kanta Karna, former diplomat and now professor of political science at Nepal’s Tribhuvan University, told ThePrint: “This was expected of him. After the map row with India, he thought he had the majority support of his people and that he is now an all-powerful member of the party. But he failed to manage the party and that is why we are seeing this massive crisis in Nepal today. This is an utter constitutional crisis that the country is in at the moment.”
According to sources in Nepal, such a decision was anticipated ever since the first political crisis took place in the Himalayan nation in April this year when the internal feud within the Nepal Communist Party came to fore.
The NCP was formed in May 2018 by uniting the two major Left parties of Nepal — the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist–Leninist) led by Oli, and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre), led by Prachanda. It was decided then that the two leaders will serve as joint chairmen of the party under an electoral alliance.
At the time, both Oli and Prachanda had agreed to a power-sharing deal under which both would be PM for a period of two-and-a-half years. But the deal never got ratified within the party, as Oli avoided taking it to the General Council.
This angered the other faction led by Prachanda, Madhav Nepal and Jhalanath Khanal, who started a campaign to get Oli to resign, both as PM as well as chairman of the party.
The faction supporting Oli also registered its own political party as the clamour for his resignation increased.
In May, the matter seemed to have been resolved with China’s ‘intervention’. Chinese Ambassador to Kathmandu, Hou Yanqi, was successful in uniting the quarrelling factions by holding meetings with senior leaders of the party.
But in July this year, the demand for Oli’s resignation began to gain momentum once again, even as the PM was busy garnering support from all political parties over a new political map of Nepal that claimed disputed areas of the Kalapani border region with India as its own.
“A split in the ruling party is now imminent. The power-sharing deal between Oli and Prachanda was never taken up by the party’s general council, and from there all the problems began, and he (Oli) started giving one excuse after other for not holding the talks. As per Prachanda, he was supposed to become the Prime Minister after two and a half years,” said S.D. Muni, Professor Emeritus, Jawaharlal Nehru University and a former Indian ambassador and special envoy, who is considered to be an expert on Nepal.
Restoration of monarchy
For months, Nepal has also been witnessing a spate of protests by those who support the monarchy, which was shown the door 12 years ago when the country became a federal republic.
The protests grew louder days before India’s Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla was set to visit Nepal, in a possible thawing of ties after bilateral relations plummeted following the issuance of the map.
On 2 December, there were nationwide protests by pro-royalists, led by Rastriya Shakti Nepal (RSN) and Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP), who sought the return of the monarchy to settle the current political crisis.
The RPP convened an emergency meeting Sunday, immediately after the dissolution of the HoR was announced.
Earlier this month, RSN leader Keshar Bahadur Bista had called for the restoration of a Hindu kingdom through peaceful means.
According to Muni, Oli might join the pro-monarchy forces with the creation of his own political party, with the support of “certain sections of New Delhi”.
“I do not rule out the possibility of Oli joining hands with the feudal forces supported by certain sections of New Delhi. But India is not realising is that it was the monarchy that brought in China and Pakistan into Nepal. India has always been comfortable in dealing with the King, and that’s what they may be looking at now,” he said, adding that the king had done nothing to support India’s national interest. He said in the 1960s, it was the monarchy that sought arms from China to fight the Maoists.
Gyawali’s visit to India uncertain
Meanwhile, diplomatic ties between Kathmandu and New Delhi remain on tenterhooks due to Sunday’s political developments.
The country’s Foreign Minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali was to visit India this month to hold ministerial-level talks with his Indian counterpart S. Jaishankar.
“The dissolution process is yet to play out. It’s an internal issue. Our objective is to insulate ourselves from Nepal’s internal politics… This is their own situation and they have to deal with it. In fact it’s intra-party politics,” said a top Indian government official, who refused to be named.
In last three months, a series of high-level visits had taken place from India to Nepal, starting with RAW chief Samant Kumar Goel in October. Army chief Gen. M.M. Naravane visited in November, followed by Foreign Secretary Shringla the same month. Shringla vowed to take the ties, which had been under strain since May, “forward”.