Wednesday, 8 December, 2021

MPs Switch Camps

Ramesh Lamsal

It is said that there are no permanent friends or permanent foes in politics, only permanent interests. Alliances form and break up and then re-form again; so do government coalitions. The latest episode to oust Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli from his office is a case in point.
When Oli, in an obvious act of overreach, dissolved the House of Representatives (HoR) for the second time on May 22, a coalition took shape with the participation of Nepali Congress, CPN- Maoist Centre, Upendra Yadav-led Janata Samajbadi Party (JSP) and Nepal-Khanal faction of the ruling CPN-UML. They filed a writ petition at the Supreme Court signed by 146 lawmakers, demanding the HoR reinstatement and appointment of NC’s Sher Bahadur Deuba as the new PM.
As anticipated, the SC Constitutional Bench termed Oli’s move unconstitutional and reinstated the House. It issued mandamus, ordering the Office of the President to appoint Deuba the new PM, who was constitutionally required to take vote of confidence within a month. Against his earlier statement that he would not hurry for the trust vote, he wished to test himself on July 18. Obviously, UML issued a whip to vote against PM Deuba, but at least 22 MPs defied the order and voted for him. However, the results that unfolded were beyond most people’s radar of anticipation.
Nepal-Khanal camp of the UML had 23 lawmakers. Political pundits assumed that they would cross the floor in unison and vote for Deuba, but things panned out differently. Bhim Rawal, known for his acerbic rhetoric against Oli, announced his resignation from the House as MP amid last-ditch efforts by his colleagues to stop him. And when the voting took place actually, only 13 MPs cast their votes in Deuba’s favour while 10 abstained. Surprisingly, nine other MPs, presumed close to Oli, too, signed for Deuba. Kisaan Shrestha said that they decided to support Deuba in consideration of their constituencies and party leadership’s constant disregard of their loyalty.
Similarly, JSP leaders Mahantha Thakur, Rajendra Mahato and their aides, who had joined Oli government since the dissolution of the House, only to be shown their way out by the court, also decided to vote for Deuba at the last minute, reportedly because all the MPs were likely to desert them, which would have left them in an embarrassing situation.
The court had ruled that party whip would not be applicable to MPs while voting for a new PM appointed as per Article 76 (5) of the constitution. Obviously, the court made the ruling based on individual agency of the MPs and principle of conscience envisioned by the statute. Floor crossing is not uncommon in politics around the world, the United States in particular, where the Congressmen and Senators alike exercise their vote on the basis of agendas rather than allegiance to the political party. But looking at last Sunday’s voting and its outcome, it seems that not all MPs in our parliament crossed the floor on grounds of principles but for personal of partisan gains.
It was reported prior to the voting that UML lawmaker Prem Bahadur Ale, who represents far western Doti district in the House and had been a forest minister for some time, had approached PM Deuba, saying that he, along with some other colleagues, would vote in his favour, in an apparent attempt to book his berth in the new Cabinet. Similarly, some MPs of JSP switched camps from Mahantha Thakur to Upendra Yadav in expectations of better opportunities in the days ahead. Such tactical moves of the lawmakers not only taint democracy but also entail direct and indirect costs for the country and people.