Tuesday, 28 September, 2021

Oli’s Third Innings in Government

Ritu Raj Subedi

A series of melodramatic events that unfolded on Nepali political stage last week are now over. KP Sharma Oli has again become the Prime Minister of Nepal. An all-out effort of opposition parties to prevent him from being appointed to the highest executive post has come to naught. Oli’s successful moves to make peace with his arch rival Madhav Kumar Nepal and muster the support of one influential faction of Janata Samajbadi Party (JSP) enabled him to regain his premiership which he lost after failing to win the vote of confidence in the parliament.
Oli has higher numerical strength in the House of Representatives (HoR) compared to other opposition leaders. Plus as a leader of the ruling party, he holds all the cards, and consequently, he played his cards right. The opposition groups have been rendered helpless, thanks to Mahantha Thakur and Rajendra Mahato’s faction of JSP that stood by Oli till the last moment. Thakur, who claimed that his party stayed neutral in the voting on confidence motion, surreptitiously helped the embattled PM to retain his position. He took and confined his lawmakers to a resort so that they would not change their allegiance to rival and another party chair Upendra Yadav. Nonetheless, the control of the mind and body of elected representatives by the factional leaders drew flak from different quarters.

Bumpy road
Even if Oli succeeded to secure the post of premiership for the third time, Nepali politics has already been on the slippery slope. It has a bumpy road ahead. Now Oli leads a minority government and has to secure a vote of confidence within 30 days of his appointment. In February 2018, Oli led the government with near two-thirds majority. The powerful communist government was supposed to deliver stability and prosperity to the nation through the drastic socio-economic transformations. But people’s hopes were dashed as the ruinous factionalism hindered the smooth performance of the government, and the formal split of Nepal Communist Party into its earlier constituents - UML and Maoist Centre – put the final nail in the coffin of much-vaunted unification of two big left parties. Now the UML-led minority government is likely to face unintended obstacles and challenges. So another round of political gambit is sure to rock the country when the parliament braces to test Oli’s trust vote.
The fragile opposition parties miserably failed to put on their brave face against Oli, who has become more powerful after plugging the hole in the party. It seemed the opposition groups lacked the strategy and determination to install an alternative government. Nepali Congress president Sher Bahadur Deuba was earlier reluctant to lead from the front to coalesce the opposition groups into a strong force capable of giving an outlet to the deepening political crisis. He swung into action only after PM Oli decided to seek the vote of confidence in the House.
The trio – Deuba, Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda and Yadav – busted a gut to oust Oli but to no avail. If the NC, Maoist Centre and JSP had stood united, a coalition government could be formed comfortably. Deuba did not show much interest in taking Thakur and Mahato into confidence and only allied with Yadav much to the irritation of the duo. Unlike Deuba, PM Oli cajoled Thakur from the beginning to tip the scales in his favour. Oli had pre-empted opposition groups’ manoeuvring in a show of his strategic aptitude.
Deuba and Prachanda relied more on Nepal-Khanal faction to topple Oli. Both thought lawmakers from Nepal-Khanal faction would resign en masse, thereby giving them an upper hand in the number game but this assumption turned wrong. Once Oli stepped back from his earlier position of not returning to the UML status of Jestha 2, 2075 B.S., their entire plan would go down the tube. And eventually, this happened. Oli accepted the demand of Nepal-Khanal faction that has been arguing that the UML structures created by its 9th convention should be the basis of the unity in the restored party. As Nepal and Co shelved their plan to resign, the opposition could not stake claim to the post of PM.
Hard-hitting posture
Nonetheless, Nepal-Khanal faction had dared to bet the career of its leaders. Its 28 lawmakers had abstained during the voting on PM’s vote of confidence. They had again threatened to resign to pave the way for the opposition parties to form the new government. Their hard-hitting posture finally paid off. PM and party chair Oli gave in to their demand. Now both the sides have agreed to form a panel to address the demand of Nepal-Khanal faction. While the UML is heading to heal its factional wounds, the JSP is now on the verge of split. The other day lawmakers loyal to Thakur and Mahato unilaterally picked Mahato as the parliamentary party leader. Upendra Yadav was neither informed nor involved in the process of electing the PP leader. Let’s see how Yadav will respond to this development.
This entire political drama indicates that political culture and constitutional conduct is yet to take roots in the federal republic. Our democracy is again marred by those discrepancies witnessed in mid-1990s. Political parties indulged in the violation of basic procedures, floor cross and control of their lawmakers when the incumbent governments in centre and provinces faced no confidence motion. This nauseating episode took place at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has been raging in the country. Now the political parties should keep their differences aside and devote themselves to stem the coronavirus at all cost.

(Deputy Executive Editor of The Rising Nepal, Subedi writes regularly on politics, foreign affairs and other contemporary issues. subedirituraj@yahoo.com)