Parliamentary arithmetics


There are 10 days to go for Nepal’s Parliament to reconvene as per the Supreme Court verdict on Tuesday.

A lot needs to happen in that time, and a lot more is bound to happen. Much of it will depend on what Prime Minister KP Oli decides to do in the coming days. So far, he says he has no intention of resigning as demanded by Pushpa Kamal Dahal of the rival faction within his ruling NCP.

If he does not resign, Oli’s only other alternative is to face a confidence motion in House. Here, it will be parliamentary arithmetics that will determine the course of events. Oli is now in the ironical position of mustering support from a House that he himself dissolved on 20 December.

Oli was celebrating his 70th birthday on Tuesday when news came of the Supreme Court's decision. He continued partying, and has tried to exude confidence. His options, however, are limited.

Even if the NCP is not formally split, it is behaving like two parties. There is too much bad blood between Oli and Dahal for the factions to reunite, and both leaders have discounted it. The Lower House has 275 seats, of which the NCP commands 173, the NC has 63, JSP 34, and 4 are with smaller parties. Of the NCP, the Dahal faction has 90 MPs and Oli claims to have 81, three are neutral.

The NC commands the swing vote, and its president Sher Bahadur Deuba is being courted as king-maker by both NCP factions. On Thursday, senior NC leaders met to decide which faction to support, if at all. Many NC leaders say the party should stay away and focus on elections next year.

Meanwhile, a small group of relatively neutral leaders have been trying to patch up Nepal and Oli’s differences to save party unity. Says Sher Bahadur Tamang, a former Oli supporter who defected to the Dahal camp: “There are many comrades who want Oli to propose Nepal as prime minister, and put the past behind. But given the distrust, it is not very likely.”

These are the possible scenarios:

  • Oli resigns, hands over prime ministership to Deuba, and joins a NC-led coalition. Although Deuba likes Oli, the NC rank and file do not.
  • Oli resigns and hands over prime ministership to Madhav Kumar Nepal, whom he considers a lesser evil.
  • Dahal-Nepal also court Deuba.
  • Oli would like to pass an ordinance to allow his faction to split, but he does not have the requisite 40% in the Parliamentary Party.
  • Bam Dev Gautam and Other NCP cadre lobby to keep the party united. (But both Oli and Dahal rejected the idea.)
  • The Dahal faction prepares a no-confidence vote, but needs to register name of new PM. Will Deuba agree?
  • Oli faces a confidence vote in the House, and loses. He resigns and the Dahal faction negotiates to form a new government.
  • Oli wins a confidence vote, and woos some Dahal loyalists and the NC to form a government.

The Oli faction is in deep consultation with advisers and senior ministers, and postponed a Standing Committee meeting of its faction on Thursday, ostensibly because of a need to do “additional homework”, according to Oli adviser Surya Thapa.

Says Bipin Adhikari, an expert on constitutional law: “The only way to avoid prolonged political turmoil is the unlikely scenario that ageing leaders in both factions realise that such instability is not in the national interest and hand over the reins to a new generation of young leaders.”

However, the septuagenerians in all main parties have shown no inclination to pass on the torch.

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