Political power struggle which has become endemic to Nepal, witnessed the worst of it on May 10, 2021 amidst surging cases of COVID-19 driven Pandemic. The political leaders across the parties in Nepal were found completely engrossed into the number-game when the priority should have been to address seriously the struggling common man on the streets of Nepal. While the Oli’s factions were struggling to achieve the magic number to continue to be in the government, on the other hand the parties opposed to Oli were conspiring to block Oli from achieving the magic number of 136 on the floor of House of Representatives. The Lower House called Pratinidhi Sabha consists of 275 members of which 165 are elected from single-member constituencies by first-past-the-post voting and 110 are elected through proportional electoral system where voters vote for political parties, considering the whole country as a single election constituency.
A Special Session of the Lower House of Parliament was convened on the directives of President Bidya Devi Bhandari in Nepal on May 10, 2021. 232 of the 275-members were present during the ‘vote of confidence’ motion. A person or party requires to muster a majority of 136 votes to win the confidence of the house and form the government. Four members are currently suspended from the House. A total of 124 members voted against the confidence motion while 15 members abstained. Prime Minister K.P Sharma Oli (69) could secure only 93 votes, in spite of the fact that his party UML had strength of 121 members in the House. Hence, UML itself stood divided within and did not support its own candidate for the post of Prime Minister.
Consequently, Speaker of the House, Agni Sapkota announced after the vote of confidence was over that “All votes cast in favour of the motion fell short to achieve a majority of the existing strength of the House of Representatives, I hereby declare that the prime minister’s motion to seek a vote of confidence has been rejected.”
The members who abstained were from the Madhav Nepal-Jhala Nath Khanal faction of Oli’s party, CPN-UML. Earlier there were contemplation that they would resign en masse. However, they stood for removal of Oli from Prime ministership. This was indeed a huge setback to Oli. In case Nepal-Khanal faction would have resigned en masse with its 20 seats, the strength of the House would have been reduced to 251 and the requirement for Oli to win ‘vote of confidence’ would have been reduced to 101.
MPs who voted against Oli were Nepali Congress (61 seats), Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) (49 Seats). CPN (MC) totally lost the game as they did not have any significant number to play any determining role in government formation. They still needed 26 more members to form government.
Janata Samajbadi Party (JSP) (32 seats) were divided as Mahantha Thakur-led faction stayed neutral whereas the Upendra Yadav-led group voted against Oli. Thus, the JSP was struggling to keep its flock together to bring down the Oli’s government. The party projected itself as a divided house as Mahanta Thakur-Rajendra Mahto faction of JSP were in negotiations with Oli for the last few weeks.
Oli took oath of office of Prime Minister in February 2018 with the support of the Maoist Centre as per Article 76(2). However, after the merger of UML and Pushp Kamal Dahal’s Maoist Centre, Oli’s government attained the status of government formed under Article 76(1), as the united Nepal Communist Party (NCP) commanded a comfortable majority on the floor of the House.
The Bickering among the Parties:
Oli earned the wrath of Madav Nepal when on March 12, through a Central Committee meeting, Oli amended the Party statute to incorporate 23 leaders of the Maoist Centre and changed the responsibilities of party leaders, stripping leaders close to Madhav Nepal of their responsibilities. Madhav’s faction has been demanding that Oli should begin from the point of May 2018 when the UML and Maoist Centre decided to merge the parties to form Nepal Communist Party.
Nepal is in deep political turmoil since the end of December 2020 when Prime Minister Oli had recommended the dissolution of the Lower House to the President. The recommendation had effectively ended the unity forced among the left political parties on the eve of 2017 elections under the new constitution. The Left unity had led to the creation of the single, grand Nepal Communist Party which was short-lived. The unity broke after the recommendations of Oli and plunged the national politics into turmoil and the five-year-old Constitution into uncertainty. This also raised questions about the haste with which the President approved Oli’s recommendations. This led to a number of petitions in the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court of Nepal had invalidated the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) and revived the UML and the Maoist Centre to their pre-merger stage of May 2018. The verdict of the Supreme Court was delivered on 23rd February 2021 which overturned Oli’s decision to dissolve the Parliament as it was unconstitutional. The court also observed that without exploring the possibilities of forming an alternative government the dissolution would put extra monetary burden on the people for fresh elections. This annulled all the decisions concerning political appointments. The Government was also asked to summon Parliament within 13 days i.e., by March 8th, 2021. It was in this backdrop the Oli had announced for a floor test in accordance with Article 100(1) of the Constitution of Nepal. All the parties were in hectic negotiations and bargain to be a part of the government.
Nepal thus, saw the worst form of power struggle at the cost of its own people. This also created vacuum within the polity making tremendous space for judiciary to make interventions and force modicum of discipline upon political leaders that may have been possible for the judiciary. The power ambitions of political leaders belonging to different factions of different political parties were clearly on display.
Now the President of Nepal will have to invoke Article 76(2) to form a new government. The said Article facilitates that the President shall appoint as the Prime Minister a member of the House of Representatives who can command majority with the support of two or more parties in the House. Hence Nepali Congress (NC) may get an opportunity to form government with the backing of the Maoist Centre. However, the two parties together would still fall short of 26 seats to form a new government. Under such circumstances, if the new government fails to win ‘vote of confidence’ on the floor of the House within 30 days, the President shall invoke Article 76(3).
The said Article empowers the President to appoint the party leader of the party which has highest number of members in the House of Representatives as Prime Minister. Oli’s party being the largest on the floor of the House may then form the government but will have to prove the majority on the floor within 30 days. However, failing this the President will once again invoke Article 76(2), subsequent to its failure alone can the President dissolve the House. Therefore, by all likelihood given the nature of Nepal’s political dynamics the impasse will continue and there is extremely less likelihood of any stable government in future. The political parties will have no choice but to seek the mandate of the people thereby causing monetary burden of elections on the exchequer. That too when investment in the health sector should have been the priority.
This is quite unfortunate that when the people of Nepal are reeling under a health-crisis the leaders are busy in power-game. When the country’s development and nation-building should have been priority the leaders are involved in narrow and partisan interests. There must not be a surprise if Oli blames it on India. The recent imbroglio must have been observed keenly by India as the bilateral relations hit a new low under the leadership of Oli. When India inaugurated a new road from Dharchula to Lipulekh on the route to Mansarovar Yatra, it was detested by Oli government. Consequently, they came out with a new map of Nepal adding to it an area of 370 sq.km. at the tri-junction of Nepal, India and China (Tibet), which India claims as its own territory. Nepal had adopted Constitutional Amendment to legitimise the alteration to the Country’s map with the addition of Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadura. This led to a breakdown of bilateral relations between India and Nepal. Overall, whether India is involved into the internal political affairs of Nepal or not is immaterial, what is material is that China made endless efforts of striking a chord among the internally divided left political parties to install the left-government once again. However, entire China’s exercise was but in vain. Therefore, the great political upheaval also has reflections upon the economic and diplomatic might of China. The internal power struggle and lust for power of political leaders prevailed over Chinese money and outreach.
*Alok Kumar Gupta, Associate Professor and HoD, Department of Politics and International Relations Dean, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Central University of Jharkhand