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Oli’s action pushes Nepal into turmoil again

By Dissolving Parliament, The PM Acquires Absolute Power With Zero Responsibility

TOP NEWS-23-12-2020
Pushpa Kamal Dahal (L) and KP Sharma Oli

With the stroke of a pen, President Bidhya Devi Bhandari, endorsed Prime Minister K P Oli’s recommendation to dissolve the 275-member House of Representatives on Sunday. Fresh elections will be held in two phases -- April 30 and May 10. But if the street protests and violence which have descended across the country mean anything, the political future of the country is at stake. 

Oli’s action has triggered a near vertical split in the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) which came into being 40 months ago following the merger of two of the biggest left parties in Nepal, the Maoists who came from a decade-long insurgency background, and the Communist Party of Nepal with nearly 25 years of parliamentary practice. 

The unity of the two communist forces, a grand vision of six decades, gave the NCP a near two thirds majority in the general elections held in 2017, the first after the new constitution was promulgated marking the end of a prolonged transition.

There are clear signs that Oli’s drastic action could push the country back into turmoil, and worse-still, a constitutional vacuum. Oli, who had been reduced to a minority in the party including its parliamentary unit, took the action so that he continues as the caretaker Prime Minister in the coming six months, with absolute power and zero accountability.

The political actions and reactions from rival groups will ultimately lead to a formal split in the NCP. The Central Committee of the NCP has a total of 441 members, including 241 from the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist–Leninist) led by Oli, and 200 from Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) led by Pushpa. Kamal Dahal alias Prachanda. On Tuesday, a majority of the NCP Central Committee expelled Oli from the party chairmanship and elected senior leader Madhav Kumar Nepal, a former Prime Minister, in his place. On the rebound, Oli removed Narayankaji Shrestha as the party’s spokesperson. 

This is, however, just the beginning with more expulsions and counter-expulsions in the offing before the Election Commission gives its verdict on which of the two is the ‘real’ NCP. This will come possibly by next week.

Earlier, there were visible problems between the two constituents of the NCP over the merger of two dozen front-organizations. Charting out the NCP’s political principles was incomplete. Oli refused to honor an agreement with Maoist faction leader Prachanda that he would hand-over government leadership to him in the second half of his Prime-ministerial tenure. Prachanda also complained that although he was one of the two Chairmen of the Party, Oli did not give him any responsibility.

Oli’s megalomaniac actions included bringing all the investigating agencies of the state including the directorate of revenue intelligence directly under him. This contributed to bringing his opponents together. ‘He was trying to implicate me in a land scam to finish my political career and I will not forgive him’ remains a repeated statement Madhav Nepal, a former Prime Minister and senior dissident leader, makes, displaying the screen shot of details from a government file. Besides, Oli has often been disrespectful towards his ‘comrades’ specially in the dissident side.

President Bhandari’s luxurious lifestyle —like building a helipad next door displacing the seven decade old Police Training Centre— made media headlines. The ‘monarchs’ of the republic have often been denounced in pro-monarchy rallies around the country.

More and more senior leaders joined Prachanda as they felt that Oli was showing a megalomaniacal tendency and taking major decisions without consulting the party. Two months ago, Prachanda, in consultation with senior leaders of the NCP, submitted a 19-page ‘political resolution’ that included, among other things, serious allegations of corruption against Oli. But Oli retorted: ‘The party will not remain one if Prachanda refuses to withdraw it.” He was prophetic.

Oli focused more on consolidating his power through Ordinances. He enjoyed the solid backing of President Bidhya Devi Bhandari, a former ‘comrade’ who has always been loyal to him. Last week, she endorsed an ordinance that reduced to 13, the quorum for a meeting of the Constitutional Council for recommending appointees. Oli swiftly picked up 45 people for these bodies, including the Anti-graft Commission which has the notorious reputation of the being used against political rivals. 

President Bhandari promptly signed Oli’s proposal for the dissolution of parliament although the constitution says that all options to explore the formation of an alternative government should be considered before such any drastic action is taken.

Oli’s action has also been challenged in the Supreme court by various rights groups, individuals and members of the dissolved parliament. There are already street protests and angry demands for action against the President and Prime Minister alleging that they had staged a ‘fraud and a coup’ against the constitution. The anti-Oli group of the NCP has joined hands with two major opposition parties — Nepali Congress and the Samajbadi Janata Party-- for a nationwide protest seeking the reinstatement of parliament, ouster of Oli, and the impeachment of President Bhandari. 

Nepal transitioned to a federal secular republic in 2006 following a mass movement against the takeover of executive powers by King Gyanendra. The constitution which was promulgated in 2015 ‘incorporated’ all these features, but its proponents totally excluded the pro-monarchy, and the pro-Hindu and unitary system lobby from the peace as well as the political process. Five years after the constitution was promulgated, the three forces which have been holding rallies demanding that Nepal go back to being a Hindu Kingdom, have come to the fore. ‘Raja Aau, Desh Bachau’ (King you come and save the country) has been a slogan reverberating across the country.

In effect, Nepal will be witnessing three parallel political moves and street protests — pro Oli, anti-Oli and pro-monarchy, and a future solution to the complex problem will depend on how these three groups contribute to the solution together, failing which, the chances of foreign forces meddling in Nepali politics will increase further.

Oli has given all indications that he is here to fight back. In a nationally televised address, he narrated how he fought with powerful neighbor, India, both during the economic blockade in 2015 and during the territorial dispute over a map, in an apparent attempt to project himself as a nationalist par excellence. He did not say anything directly critical of India but gave ample hints that nationalism will be his core platform as he hits the road for the coming elections.

In the months to come, Oli and Bhandari will remain key players but their depleted moral strength appears to be too weak to combat the opposition in the streets and the courts.  Oli will be needing substantial backing from the army and other security forces to maintain law and order and service delivery. ‘But the Nepal Army is not obliged to carry out orders that are not legal and constitutional,’ a senior retired Army General said. However, much will depend on how effectively and impartially the Supreme Court defines the constitution and issues its order.