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Unstable Nepal Appears To Be Heading For Fresh Elections – Analysis

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Neither Oli nor his opponents seem capable of forming a workable coalition to avoid fresh polls

Nepalese President Bidhya Devi Bhandari has reappointed K.P Sharma Oli as Prime Minister three days after he lost the post following his failure to win a vote of confidence in parliament, known as the House of Representatives. The general feeling is that the re-instated Oli government is unlikely to show majority support by the 30-day deadline which has been set.  

Therefore, Nepal seems headed for fresh parliamentary polls, though the coronavirus pandemic is raging. The pandemic has already affected 430,000 people and claimed 4466 lives. But pandemic or no pandemic, politics will continue to engage Nepal’s leaders, irrespective of political or ideological diffeences.     

From the look of it, formation of a stable coalition is impossible given the high degree of factionalism and the high intensity of rivalry in Nepalese politics.

President Bhandari had given parties in parliament time until Thursday night to come out with claims of majority support. But none of the parties came forward to stake a claim. Therefore she had no option but to re-appoint Oli because his Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) was still the single largest party in parliament with 121 members (though in fact he got only 93 votes in the Confidence Vote).   

The Nepali Congress (NC) led by Sher Bahadur Deuba and the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist Center (CPN-MC) led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal alias Prachanda, had tried to stitch together a majority, but failed. The Maoist Center’s spokersperson Narayan Kaji Shrestha said that the CPN-MC was waiting for the result of Oli’s talks with one of its leaders, Madhav Kumar Nepal. As for the Janata Samajbadi Party (JSP), it could not take a decision.

Oli had sought a vote of confidence to resolve a long drawn out crisis created by relentless feuding among parties, and factions within parties.  But he was able to secure only 93 votes when the requirement was 136. More than 120 voted against and nearly two dozen leaders from Oli’s own party skipped the process.

Oli had dissolved parliament in December 2020, accusing members of his Nepal Communist Party (NCP) or the various factions in it, of being uncooperative. The NCP had been formed in 2018 by a merger of Oli’s Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML)  and Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda’s  Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre). But almost from the word go, the two parties and the two leaders had not been able to see eye to eye. While Oli claimed that Prachanda was too demanding and uncooperative, Prachanda claimed that Oli was monopolizing power and that he had been totally marginalized.

In February 2021, two months after the dissolution of parliament, the Supreme Court annulled the dissolution and reinstated the dissolved House. By another ruling, the court annulled the 2018 CPN (UML)-CPN (MC) merger thus reviving the old formations.

The dissolution of parliament and the annulment of the 2018 merger suited Oli because he wanted fresh elections and also to break his ties with CPN (MC). He was hoping to form a new coalition under his leadership. But that proved to be elusive. And the reinstatement of the parliament was a blow to Oli in as much as his hopes of having fresh elections were dashed.  

The Oli-Prachanda-led united NCP was meant to bring both stability and economic development to Nepal. But both stability and economic development proved to be elusive because Oli refused to take his partner Prachanda into confidence in making decisions. At one stage he even told Prachanda that he would like to split.

In a bid to build up and strengthen is Nepalese nationalist credentials Oli even picked up fights with neighboring India over the Western border and officially published maps which showed the disputed areas as part of Nepal. He then declared that the birthplace the Hindu God Rama was not in India but in Nepal.

However, while Oli’s territorial claims were endorsed by the Nepalese parliament, his political support base did not expand. Rival parties and factions within his party continued to torment him. With the help of President Bhandari he introduced Ordinances which will help split parliamentary parties. But these ran into a storm and had to be repealed.

Meanwhile, China, which had been instrumental in bringing the two Nepalese communist parties together in 2018, got alarmed and tried to patch up the differences. In May 2020,  Ambassador Hou Yanqi was unusually active. Alarmed by this, India too intervened and the chief of its external intelligence agency Samant Kumar Goel flew down to Kathmandu in October 2020 and struck deal with Oli. Consequently, Oli shed his hostility to India and foiled China’ move to bring about communist unity. But this did not bring an end to political rivalries in Nepal and in December 2020, Oli dissolved parliament.

That too did not bring the curtains down on unsavory jostling for power. The Supreme Court annulled the dissolution of parliament which was a big setback for Oli. But he was compensated somewhat when the court annulled the unity of the CPN-UML and CPL MC, as this was what he had wanted always and desperately – a break with Pushpa Kamal Dahal, alias Prachanda.

Oli was hoping to stitch together a fresh coalition in the restored parliament. But he could not make it. Neither could the opposition stich a coalition which could claim majority support. However, as Oli was  leader of the single largest party in parliament with 121 members, the President asked him to be a caretaker PM.

He would now have to show majority support within 30 days. Since this seems unlikely, as on date, the speculation is that Nepal will have to go for fresh parliamentary elections soon.

P. K. Balachandran

P. K. Balachandran is a senior Indian journalist working in Sri Lanka for local and international media and has been writing on South Asian issues for the past 21 years.

One thought on “Unstable Nepal Appears To Be Heading For Fresh Elections – Analysis

  • May 15, 2021 at 5:15 am
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    Definitely, elections could be “a solution”, not “the solution” to the present crisis. I suppose there is, more or less, a general agreement on having early elections but who is going to hold elections has been a matter of concern. Elections results are very much influenced by those in the power. Moreover, during last three years, some have accumulated so much wealth that elections are the only way to spend their money while others even a penny. The current political tussle is about this election readiness. However, what is worth noting is that given the current demography and topography of Nepal (one-third bahuns and chhetris, one-third janajatis and one-third madhesis or more than half of the population now lives in Terai plains while parliamentary seats are distributed by land size) no party will ever come close to winning a majority government. Nepal needs to learn to live with coalition governments. And this coalition culture is not there. It is often reduced to the meaning of eating turn by turn, sharing of the spoils. It is never meant to produce something more before it can shared. I suppose, hungry people don’t have a patience to wait till the food is being cooked. They want the food to be served right now.

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