Calm before another storm in Nepal
The morning after Nepal’s Supreme Court reinstated the Lower House that had been dissolved by Prime Minister K P Oli two months ago, the mood in Kathmandu is of a calm before another storm.
The past two months since the House dissolution on 20 December had been punctuated with daily demonstrations and rallies on the streets by supporters of Oli and his arch rival in the Nepal Communist Party, Pushpa Kamal Dahal.
Overnight, the reality has sunk in that the Supreme Court decision, while bringing derailed politics back on track, has opened up more uncertainties that will keep Nepal unstable into the near future.
A lot will hinge on whether Prime Minsiter K P Oli resigns, as his enemies have been demanding, or if he decides to face off a no-confidence vote in Parliament when it reconvenes before 8 March as the Supreme Court ordered on Tuesday.
The Dahal faction of the NCP has been jubilant about the victory. However, even if Oli steps down, it will faces a challenge in cobbling together a coalition with smaller parties.
The prime minister has not reacted publicly since Chief Justice Cholendra SJB Rana announced the verdict of the Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court on 24 February, which coincided with Oli’s 68th birthday. Oli’s advisers have said he is in no mood to step down, and will face a confidence vote in the House.
Things will not be easy for Oli. The Dahal faction does not just want him to step down, but for the party to take disciplinary action against him. They also will hold the threat of impeaching President Bidya Devi Bhandari, who is close to Oli, and who signed off on the House dissolution.
Dahal has decided not to take part in a rally in Chitwan and has returned to Kathmandu for consultations with party colleagues in the NCP parliamentary committee on Wednesday about his next move. He has ruled out working with Oli, and has demanded his immediate resignation.
However, he has been coy about his own prime ministerial ambition, telling the media that he would work with other parties on a national consensus. He has in the past said he would be willing to make the NC’s Sher Bahadur Deuba, who has been prime minister four times already, PM again. Dahal is said to have talked to Deuba on the phone on Tuesday.
Even though they have accepted the Supreme Court’s verdict, supporters of K P Oli have expressed their dissatisfaction with the ruling. Deputy Prime Minister and staunch Oli loyalist Ishwar Pokhrel said the move would destabilise Nepali politics.
“The prime minister was no allowed to work and tried to seek a fresh electoral mandate,” Pokhrel said. “His effort has been thwarted by a verdict in a constitutional garb. We accept it, but do not agree with it.”
Meanwhile, another NCP leader, Bam Dev Gautam, who has tried to play both sides in the power struggle in his attempt to become prime minister even though he lost the 2017 election, called for a party secretariat meeting. Gautam has been trying to keep the party intact and carve out a role for himself.
The nine-member secretariat is almost equally divided between Oli supporters Ishwar Pokhrel, Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa, General Secretary Bishnu Poudel, while Dahal has former prime ministers Madhav Kumar Nepal, Jhalnath Khanal, and Narayan Kaji Shrestha on his side. Gautam’s vote in the secretariat would be a tie-breaker.
The alternative political party Sajha Bibeksheel welcomed the Supreme Court verdict, calling on Oli to resign from prime ministership and to work towards the formation of a new government without indulging in any more intrigue. It also called on President Bhandari, whom it called “a rubber stamp of the prime minister” to step down.
Activist affiliated with the Dahal-Nepal faction of the Nepal Communist Party, stage rallies in Kathmandu on Wednesday, welcoming the Supreme court decision to reinstate the Lower House Photos: AMIT MACHAMASI
66 days after the Supreme Court verdict overturning the House dissolution
20, December 2020
Cabinet forwards recommendation for the dissolution of the Lower House to the President.
President Bidya Devi Bhandari dissolves the Lower House.
Seven ministers resign from the Cabinet.
Vote of no confidence registered against PM Oli at the Parliamentary Secretariat.
13 writs filed in the Supreme Court against the dissolution move.
Chief Justice Cholendra SJB Rana calls for writs to be heard in the Constitutional Court. Refuses to announce an interim order on the case.
The Constitutional Bench (Harikrishna Karki, Bishwombar Prasad Shrestha, Anil Sinha and Tej Bahadur KC headed by Chief Justice Rana) presides over the first hearing against the writ. The Prime Minister's office, President's office and the Speaker are directed to furnish written responses by 3 January, 2021. The bench directs the offices to attend hearings and to present a list of the details of the party affiliation of the members of the House of Representatives. The order also calls for deployment of two to three judges from Nepal Bar Association and Supreme Court to an amicus curiae.
3 January, 2021
The offices of the President and the Prime Minister and the Speaker present written responses to the Supreme Court. The President and the Prime Minister insist the move of dissolution was in line with the Constitution. The Speaker terms the dissolution 'unconstitutional' and requests the SC to overrule.
The 13 writs are re-filed with the demand for them to be heard in Full Court and not at the Constitutional Court. Law professionals argue that Judge Harikrishna Karki should not be presiding over the hearing related to the issue, citing his close association with the PM, calling it a conflict of interest. Karki had served as an advocate during KP Oli's term as Prime Minister in 2016.
Judge Karki steps down from the case's hearing at the Constitutional Court.
The Supreme Court rules for the issue of the dissolution of the Lower House to be moved to a Full Court.
Justice Sapna Pradhan Malla replaces Karki on the Bench. Law professionals demand a Full Court hearing.
The SC rules that the debate has raised ‘serious questions on constitutional definition’ and that such a case will be heard at the Constitutional Court.
A month after the dissolution, the main hearing on the cases begin. The writ petitioners demand that the dissolution of the Lower House be quashed.
The hearings are complete. The delay in a verdict from the SC raises questions over SC's independence. Street protests by both factions are a daily occurrence.
Hearings defending the government begin. Defendants say the dissolution of the Lower House was legitimate.
The lawyers defending the cases on behalf of the government and the Prime Minister rest their cases. Three lawyers argue the case on behalf of the Speaker. They demand that the dissolution of the Lower House be overruled.
Hearings from writ petitioners begin.
Response to the hearings completed. They argue there is no alternative to reinstatement of the Lower House of Parliament, as the PM's move was unconstitutional.
Amicus Curie hearing begins
Three lawyers from Nepal Bar Association and two from SC Bar Association attend the hearings. Senior advocates Badri Bahadur Karki, Satish Krishna Kharel, Purnaman Shakya and Geeta Pathak forward their argument to the bench saying the dissolution was unconstitutional. Senior advocate Bijaykanta Mainali argues that the constitution has given the Prime Minister the right to dissolve the House.
SC orders for the hearing note to be presented on 22 February.
SC issues a verdict saying the recommendation and decision to dissolve the Lower House of Parliament was unconstitutional. Demands the House of Representatives be summoned within 13 days.