The political turn of events in Kathmandu on Sunday, 20 December, has once again created an unprecedented constitutional crisis in Nepal which has already been witnessing intense infighting amongst the top leadership of the ruling NCP (Nepal Communist Party). President Bidya Devi Bhandari dissolved the Parliament on Sunday upon the recommendation of the council of ministers, and declared polls for 30 April and 10 May 2021.
It gave rise to huge uproar in the country, with constitutional experts, opposition parties, media and civil society members calling the move a ‘constitutional coup’. The standing committee of the PM’s own party condemned the move as unconstitutional and undemocratic. A writ petition against the move was filed at the Supreme Court immediately afterwards late Sunday.
What Led To The Dissolution Of House of Representatives?
What led to the dissolution of the House of Representatives is interesting to note. First, PM Oli was losing ground due to intense criticism from his opponents in the party and pressure to step down from the prime minister’s post since the past few months. He thus took a drastic measure directed at saving his government’s fall.
Second, since the last few months, his options have been narrowing and speculations have been high in Kathmandu over this possible move. A virtual split in the ruling CPN too was highly likely, given Oli’s rift with the other party co-chair Prachanda.
Third, the Opposition and the speaker too were boycotting the constitutional council meetings called by PM Oli lately, a move considered unconstitutional by the Oli faction. The Speaker was seen as taking a partisan position amidst growing factionalism in the CPN. In this case, the PM did not have the confidence of the House. On Sunday, as many as 90 lawmakers had even filed a no-confidence motion. Fourth, the Oli government was facing criticism from the Opposition after he bulldozed an ordinance related to the Constitutional Council Act to make it easy for him to appoint officials to various constitutional bodies even when the streets of Nepal saw huge pro-monarchy rallies against political parties. This too created an unfavourable atmosphere for Oli. Thus, in a vindictive act, Oli dissolved the Lower House. The CPN enjoyed two-third majority in the House.
Onus On Nepal Supreme Court To Set Right The Unconstitutional Move
However, the most important factor that led to Sunday’s turn of event was clearly the breakdown of the power-sharing arrangement between Oli and Prachanda.
Several rounds of talks and negotiations between the two have proved futile in resolving the problem, with both leaders sticking to their respective positions. While PM Oli has been reluctant to step down from even one position as PM or party chair as demanded by his rival faction, Prachanda – aided by Madhav Kumar Nepal and other Communist leaders – have insisted that Oli resign from either position, blaming him for mis-governance and acting without consultations in the party. All efforts by the second rung leadership to coax the two leaders to arrive at a compromise have failed too. Seven Cabinet members close to the opposing faction quit the government on Sunday.
It is up to the Supreme Court of Nepal to set right the unconstitutional move. As per legal experts, the constitutional articles cited by the President – to dissolve the parliament on 20 December – do not apply to dissolution. They have argued that pursuant to 76 (1) and (7) and 85 (cited in the president’s notice on Sunday) are cited only when there is a hung parliament, and when no party can prove majority on the floor of the House.
The SC is now expected to act independently and competently over the issue.Though there is vagueness and uncertain interpretations, the new constitution, as per experts, have made it difficult for the PM to seek dissolution of the House.
It is now up to the SC to clarify this matter in the spirit of the constitution.
Amid Turmoil In Nepal, Chinese Diplomacy Takes A Backseat. What About India?
For now, PM Oli is shouldering the blame for letting his people and democracy down. He has resorted to the old tactics of past politicians which plunged the country into turmoil and instability as the leaders chose to act in a partisan manner.
The next standing committee meeting of the CPN is vital. If disciplinary action is taken against Oli, as is being threatened by Prachanda and other senior members of the party, it will most likely mean a split in the party. Oli may form a new government with the support of the Nepali Congress and others.
In the meantime, Chinese diplomacy in Nepal seems to have taken a back seat with this development. The Chinese ambassador to Nepal was in the limelight recently for ‘active involvement’ in saving the communist party’s unity.
Since early 2020, Chinese envoy Hou Yanqi has been seen holding a series of meetings with NCP leaders, expressing concern over the ongoing power play within the ruling party. China has also been seeking support from Nepali leaders to stand behind it against US’s attempt to isolate it internationally on the COVID-19 issue. China and CPN have built on their party-to-party relationship as well with events being held in Kathmandu surrounding Xi Jinping’s ideology earlier in 2020.
India, on the other hand, has been watching the developments in Nepal closely and has always stated that political stability in Nepal is in India’s interest.
Given the downturn in bilateral relations between the two countries over the map row recently, it will be interesting to see how India will react to the latest developments in Nepal, a country it considers its traditional sphere of influence. India has played an important role in virtually all political transformations in Nepal.
(The author is a Nepali journalist, researcher based in New Delhi. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)