Dahal-Nepal hold anti-Oli rally
More than a month after Prime Minister K P Oli dissolved the Lower House and called for interim elections in April-May, the biggest protest so far against the move was held on Friday in Kathmandu by a rival party faction.
Ironically, the rally was not held by any of the opposition parties, but the anti-Oli faction of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) led by Madhav Kumar Nepal and former Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal.
Groups of NCP cadre marched from various parts of Kathmandu and congregated at Bhrikuti Mandap, where top leaders of the party singled out Prime Minister Oli for blistering attacks, using strong language, calling his move anti-democratic and unconstitutional.
“K P Oli is not a man of his word, he promises everything just to keep his prime ministerial post, but he immediately breaks them,” Dahal thundered.
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The streets on the east side of Tundikhel were filled with people under a hazy afternoon sun. Because this main artery was cordoned off for the rally, Kathmandu suffered massive traffic jams all day as buses and cars had to be rerouted.
In his speech, Nepal said: “We have removed K P Oli from party chair and asked him for an explanation. Depending on what he says we will take action against him. But if he says he is sorry and accepts his mistake, we can set him free after some time in jail.”
The leaders, most of them male, sat on sofas on a temporary stage erected on an intersection next to the City Hall.
“K P Oli is a traitor. He is a traitor to the party, and he is a traitor to the Communist movement,” said Jhalnath Khanal, a former prime minister, now loyal to the Dahal-Nepal camp.
The organisers of the rally had mobilised cadres from the Dahal-Nepal faction from Kathmandu and surrounding districts, but it was not clear how many of the public joined the rally to listen to the speeches.
While exhorting the NCP student union this week in an aggressive speech, Dahal had said that “vegetarian protests were not working” and called for “non-vegetarian” agitation. This was taken to mean the use of violence, and the remark was criticised by a section of civil society.
However, in his speech to the rally on Friday, Dahal sounded conciliatory, and mockingly self-critical. “We knew K P Oli was making mistakes, but we failed to bring him back in line. That was our shortcoming.”
On the eve of the protests on Thursday, Dahal-Nepal cadre took out torch rallies at various intersections and let off black balloons to protest the prime minister’s move.
For now, however, the confrontation of the two factions has been limited to a war of words. In a speech to a media group in Kathmandu on Wednesday, Oli accused the Dahal-Nepal faction of wrecking his plans to take the country to prosperity through stability by unifying the UML and the Maoists.
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He also attacked the press for being overly critical and not looking at his government’s achievements in the past two-and-half years. “Journalists who sell their souls and are always negative will end up going to hell,” he said.
Meanwhile, the opposition Nepali Congress (NC) is also split between Sher Bahadur Deuba who has hinted that an early election would be in the party’s interest and Ram Chandra Poudel, who says elections should only be held after the Lower House is reinstated.
On Wednesday, the NC held protest rallies at 6,743 local ward levels all over the country. But the protests and speeches by leaders sounded more like the party was already on the election campaign trail. Analysts have said that the NC will benefit if the Supreme Court restores the Lower House, or if elections are called. The party is expected to have the necessary swing votes no matter which faction forms the next government.
The Janata Samajbadi Dal (JSD) has also been holding rallies all over the country, trying to project itself as not just a Madhes-based entity but a national one. Addressing a rally in Butwal on Thursday, former Maoist ideologue Baburam Bhattarai accused Prime Minister Oli of trying to influence the Supreme Court justices to rule in favour of house dissolution.
“We should not be fooled, Oli has no intention of holding elections,” Bhattarai said. “All parties should unite and launch a third People’s Movement if the house is not restored.”
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has continued its hearings on the 13 writ petitions against the Lower House dissolution. The depositions have had to be limited to half an hour each because there are so many lawyers who need to be accommodated.
Petitioners at the Constitutional Bench on Wednesday said the prime minister’s move was not just illegal, but he did not even follow proper procedures by bringing out a Gazette notice. Interestingly, after the Bench asked the Attorney General to forward the Nepal Gazette, a notice back dated to 20 December was published on Friday, more than a month later.