Nepalis outraged by PM Oli move
Prime Minister K P Oli’s surprise proposal on Sunday to dissolve the Lower House of Parliament in response to challenge from party rivals has been met with sharp and widespread criticism in Nepal.
Many saw the move as unconstitutional, ill-advised and having the potential to destroy Nepal’s hard-won democracy and push the country over the cliff. Many political leaders, activists and commentators took to social media to say that it was up to President Bidya Devi Bhandari and the Supreme Court to overturn the Cabinet decision.
However, President Bhandari endorsed the recommendation on Monday afternoon itself and announced elections to the Lower House on 30 April and 10 May 2021.
“The 2017 Constitution does not give the head of government the right to dissolve the House if there is still the possibility of an alternative government being formed,” says Bipin Adhikari, an expert in Constitutional law. “This clause was included in the Constitution to ensure stability in the country.”
Indeed, it is almost unheard of in a democracy for a government that commands a two-thirds majority in Parliament to dissolve the House that it leads, just because there is an internal challenge to the head of government.
It has emerged that Prime Minister Oli made the move after he got wind that some members of the Dahal faction were going to the Parliament Secretariat to register a vote of no confidence signed by 90 members against him. Dahal then reportedly heard about the decision to dissolve the Lower House even before he heard back from those registering the motion.
The NCP's Standing Committee met on Sunday evening and decided to propose 'disciplinary action' against K P Oli in the forthcoming Central Committee meeting on 23 December.
Prime Minister Oli and his arch nemesis party co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal have had an uneasy relationship ever since their UML and Maoist parties merged to form the Nepal Communist Party (NCP). The infighting intensified this year as Dahal’s faction within the party put increasing pressure on Oli to either give up his party post, or the prime ministership, or both.
Dahal submitted a 19-page document to the party, listing what he said were Oli’s infractions – mainly not consulting the party on key decisions and poor governance. Oli fired back a 36-page reply, and the documents were to be discussed in a party Standing Committee meeting that Oli has been trying postpone.
Oli has played brinkmanship the whole of 2020, raising the issue of a border dispute with India in May to buy time, bringing up the excuse of the Covid-19 pandemic to suspend Parliament sittings. And he even passed an ordinance to amend the constitution to allow breakup of parties, and registered his erstwhile UML with the Election Commission.
He had President Bhandari hurriedly sign an ordinance last week to change the rules governing the appointment of officials of constitutional bodies after two members of the Constitutional Council did not attend meetings to decide on nominations.
On Saturday, Prime Minster Oli spent a hectic day meeting Dahal at his residence, visiting former Maoist members of his Cabinet, trying to convince them that Dahal written document would not be presented at the Standing Committee meeting.
It appears that the effort failed, which is why he made the dramatic move on Sunday that took everyone by surprise. In order to deal with the internal power struggle within the NCP, Oli has defied the constitution to recommend a dissolution of the Lower House.
Even senior NCP members close to Oli have not openly supported his move, and were apparently not consulted. Others have said it is counter-productive and political suicidal for the prime minister. Some say Oli may just be using the threat of this drastic measure as a final bargaining chip against Dahal, but even they admit that the move is fraught with dangers for the Nepali state.
“Prime Minsiter Oli’s decision goes against the basic tenets of the constitution, which does not give the prime minister any special authority to dissolve the Lower House, it is illegal,” says another constitutional expert, Bhimarjun Acharya.
Both Adhikari and Acharya had said President Bhandari should reject the proposal, and the Supreme Court should rule that the move is unconstitutional.
“If the president signs the proposal for dissolution at the same speed at which it was presented, the Supreme Court must step in, and when it does I am 100% certain it will overturn the move,” Adhikari told Nepali Times before the President endorsed the recommendation.
Predictably, the opposition Nepali Congress (NC), which has been in limbo since it lost the 2017 elections, smelled blood. The NC’s Gagan Thapa tweeted: ‘This is an unconstitutional and anti-democratic move by the Prime Minister, and it proves that the NCP has lost the mandate it got from the people three years ago.’
Baburam Bhattarai, the former Maoist ideologue and now with the Janata Samajbadi Party posted a video on social media saying: “All political parties and democratic forces, including those inside the NCP, should unite to protest this move.’
President Bidya Devi Bhandari is close to Oli, and has in the past been doing his bidding. She had three options: endorse the proposal to dissolve Parliament, reject the recommendation, or call Dahal and Oli again for a meeting to sort out their differences and come up with a compromise. She appears to have chosen the first option.
There will most certainly be a writ in the Supreme Court challenging the President's ratification and then the question is which way Chief Justice Cholendra SJB Rana will decide. As per the Constitution, most experts say Prime Minister Oli’s move stands on very iffy legal foundations.
On Sunday afternoon, members of the Dahal faction of the NCP were deep in meetings at his residence in Khumaltar. The NC was having a meeting as well, while the NCP Standing Committee met on Monday evening without Oli and decided to take disciplinary action against him in the Central Committee meeting on 23 December.