Nepal's opposition-less ParliamentNear-unanimous support for PM Dahal creates a legislature without opposition in Nepal
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal cleared a floor test in Parliament, securing 268 out of 270 votes of confidence to keep his position.
With 89 lawmakers from the Nepali Congress (NC) deciding to back him, Nepal’s Parliament has become a one horse race.
The Maoist Centre (MC) chair was appointed Prime Minister after breaking the five-party coalition led by Sher Bahadur Deuba’s NC and with support from seven parties led by K P Oli’s UML. The Dahal-Deuba alliance fell through following a failure to agree on who would be Prime Minister first under their power-sharing deal.
That the main opposition party (and one that had most seats in Parliament) chose to give Dahal the vote of confidence has invited much concern and criticism, both from within and outside Parliament.
Only two parties, who have one lawmaker each in Parliament, voted against Dahal on Tuesday: Rastriya Janamorcha Party (RJP) chair Chitra Bahadur KC, and Nepal Majdur Kisan Party (NMKP) leader Prem Suwal.
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"Opposition to the government is crucial in a democratic system. Without a strong opposition, government becomes autocratic,” thundered Chitra Bahadur KC in his address to the House. “What we have seen today sets a dangerous precedent, and weakens our democracy.”
A leader of the third-largest party in Parliament that commands just 32 seats — only 18 of which were obtained through direct ballots —becoming Prime Minister was already illogical to begin with. Now, he has no opposition at all.
Deuba’s decision to give Dahal his party’s vote of confidence has diminished NC’s role and responsibility to be a watchdog (some would say lapdog) of government. A Parliament sans opposition means there is no one to hold power to account.
For his part, Deuba remarked that his party had decided to give Dahal his party’s vote of confidence to protect the Constitution from the coalition itself, referring to Oli’s comments about dissolving Parliament.
That Dahal and Deuba have come together after their divorce indicates the fear both have that K P Oli of the UML was becoming the power behind the throne in the coalition. The NC’s decision to back Dahal would most certainly clip the UML’s wings slightly.
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However, in giving the new Prime Minister his vote of confidence, Deuba once again went against notable leaders of his own party, including Shekhar Koirala, Gagan Thapa, Bishwa Prakash Sharma and newly elected young MP Pradip Poudel, who had been firmly and openly against supporting Dahal.
Dahal and Oli has have a rocky partnership themselves, and many have doubts about how long this coalition will last. Oli himself seemed to warn Deuba not to act too smart in a speech to Parliament on Tuesday, saying: “Any attempt by the NC to spring a political trap will be unwise and fruitless.”
But Deuba’s show of support has also tipped the scales of power a bit more towards Dahal, who had been at a disadvantage since he lost key positions for his party to Oli and the UML in favour of securing the premiership for himself.
While another confidence motion cannot be called for two years, any party can exit the coalition at any time. Given the past bad blood between Oli and Dahal, there is every possibility of them falling out again, which Deuba can capitalise on.
Dahal’s alliance also includes Rabi Lamichhane’s independent RSP, Rajendra Lingden’s royal-right RPP, Ramsahay Prasad Yadav-led JSP, former separatist CK Raut’s Janamat, and the Tharu-dominant Nagarik Unmukti.
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Nepal’s government is now a melting pot of career as well as anti-establishment politicians, royalists and communists, as well as pro and anti-federalist forces.
With the relationship between leaders of the left-led coalition as unpredictable as it is, the RSP as the fourth-largest party in parliament will play an even more important role for both the Maoists and the UML in the future. Which party it aligns with on agendas could determine the future of provincial governments and federalism respectively.
Meanwhile, the Janamat and Nagarik Unmukti parties will look to expand their political influence as well as leverage to free their members, like the Resham Chaudhary, from prison.
Following the confidence vote, all eyes will now be on the selection of the Speaker on 19 January, the next President, as well as the 17 unfilled Cabinet positions.
Dahal having secured the premiership for himself means the UML and the RSP had more say in ministries and presidency. But the NC joining in support of Dahal has complicated Oli’s plans.
The challenge for Dahal now will be to appease leaders of multiple parties with limited positions so that he might keep his shaky alliance intact.
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