Nepali politics has taken a dramatic turn again. Amidst the raging COVID-19 pandemic, the country has been thrust into the mid-term elections slated for November 12 and 19 this year. President Bidya Devi Bhandari on Friday night dissolved the House of Representatives (HoR) and called for the snap polls on the recommendation of the Cabinet. The HoR where the different communist parties jointly commanded near two-thirds majority was disbanded before completing its remaining more than one-and-a-half-year term. Premature demise of parliament also reminds a grim fact that no government has completed its full tenure in Nepal since 1951 when it ushered in democratic polity and open-up. This has exposed the nation’s lack of institutional ability and broad democratic consensus among the political actors, which are essential to deliver stability, prosperity and good governance.
Intra-party bickering Elected in November and December 2017 as per the new constitution, the 275-member HoR bore inclusive and proportional character. However, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli felt uncomfortable with it as one goes through his statements made on different occasions. He claimed it posed an obstacle to the unfettered functioning of his administration. In fact, the intense intra-party bickering had its dark shadow on the parliament that dared question his ‘unilateral’ decisions and vital Bills presented by the government. In March 2018, Oli had mustered the backing of 208 lawmakers out of 268 in a vote of confidence in the HoR. Ironically, in a bizarre twist of events; Oli dissolved the parliament twice, which had put a huge trust in him to carry out socio-economic transformation based on the spirit of constitution and election mandate. On December 20 last year, the House was dissolved after the PM sensed that majority lawmakers of his own ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) would register vote of no-confidence against him. That time the President had called for mid-term polls for April 30 and May 10 but the Supreme Court overturned the House dissolution, terming it unconstitutional. Nonetheless, the move to dissolve the parliament had already sowed deep division and rancorous feelings among the parties and leaders. It had already spread contagion effect in the then ruling NCP. As another SC verdict split the NCP into the CPN-UML and CPN- Maoist Centre, the politics headed to another round of stalemate as the PM’s party fell into minority. On the other hand, the rebel UML lawmakers under senior leader Madhav Kumar Nepal continued to put a spoke in Oli’s wheel. Instead of taking his own disgruntled comrades into confidence, Oli rather preferred to coax a faction of Janata Samajbadi Party (JSP) to sustain his government. The JSP has itself been a divided house with unpredictable posture on the issue of the formation of new government. Prior to announcing the mid-term polls for the second time, the President had dismissed the claims of both Nepali Congress president Sher Bahadur Deuba and Oli to lead the new government under Article 76 (5), citing their petition for forming the new government lacked sufficient ground , and invoked Article 76 (7) to go for the fresh mandate. As per Article 76 (5), the President had on Thursday called upon members of parliament to garner majority of House for the purpose of forming a new government. However, the opposition criticised her for initiating the formation of the government without seeking the resignation of the sitting PM or asking him to face the floor test as he was reappointed under Article 76 (3). On Friday evening, another bizarre scenario came to the fore. Deuba and Oli presented the signatures of 149 and 153 lawmakers to the Office of President respectively to stake their claims to the premiership. Lawmakers belonging to Nepal-Khanal faction and Upendra Yadav-led group of JSP had signed in both petitions. This was indeed a height of confusion resulting from the failure of party politics. Opposition groups had anticipated that the President would verify the signatures before taking any decisive step. But much to their chagrin, she announced the mid-term polls. The agitated opposition parties are up in arms against the House dissolution, terming its regression-II. They have vowed to wage political and legal fight against it.
Widening distance These unexpected developments had preceded the invalidation of the appointment of seven ministers, who had joined the UML after deserting the CPN-Maoist Centre, and defeat of Ram Bahadur Thapa Badal in the National Assembly election on Wednesday. Khim Lal Devkota beat the former Maoist guerrilla leader who is now a close aide of PM Oli. Elected representatives close to Nepal-Khanal faction of UML were behind his humiliating drubbing. This episode has again widened the distance between Oli and senior leader Nepal. Devkota was an independent candidate backed by the opposition groups – NC, Maoist Centre, JSP and Nepal-Khanal faction of UML. UML representatives at provincial and local level refused to toe the official line and used their discretion against the establishment. The writing is on the wall for the UML establishment. If the UML goes to the mid-term polls without sorting out their internal differences, it is unlikely to fare well in the elections as seen in the defeat of Badal. No doubt, election is the best means to give an outlet to the lingering political deadlock. But the timing, motive and mood of the public are the key to free and fair elections. For impartial and credible elections, the political parties must draw a common blueprint to ensure broader participation of people in it. But, at the moment, the people want that the parties and government wholeheartedly devote themselves to curb the raging pandemic. As it is uncertain as to when the second wave of the pandemic starts to subside, holding the polls within the given timeframe will be an uphill battle.
(Deputy Executive Editor of The Rising Nepal, Subedi writes regularly on politics, foreign affairs and other contemporary issues. firstname.lastname@example.org)