Fight amidst the ruins
Nearly a month after he abruptly dissolved the Lower House and called for early elections, Prime Minister Oli is looking politically isolated and increasingly on the defensive. But he is behaving as if he is already on the campaign trail.
Oli is also ensuring he has geopolitical support from both India and China. Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali is on a three-day visit to New Delhi 14-16 January. His main mission is ostensibly Covid-19 vaccines, but a visit to India by PM Oli may be in the offing.
All this has added fuel to the fire in Nepal’s already volatile political environment. Oli’s critics say he is getting ready to sell his soul to New Delhi to ensure his political longevity. They trace his U-turn to visits to Kathmandu by India’s spy chief Samant Goel and Foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla in November and December.
Prime Minsiter Oli gave two interviews to two pro-Narendra Modi Indian television channels this week. Holding forth in Hindi, Oli appeared to be trying to correct negative perception in India. Even Oli’s critics at home were impressed by his defanging of an anchor who had earlier used derogatory terms to label him a Chinese stooge.
In the sometime rambling interviews, Oli came across almost as a theologian-- recounting the glorious cultural ties between India and Nepal, and alluding profusely to Nepal’s Vedic past. Oli was softening his image in India, while playing to the domestic gallery.
The Nepal Communist Party (NCP) faction led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Madhav Kumar Nepal have peeled away most of Oli’s supporters in the party which is now as good as split.
The fight now is about who gets the party name and the Sun election symbol. On Wednesday Dahal warned he would “unleash a hurricane” if the Election Commission did not give him the party symbol.
The Supreme Court resumed hearings this week on 13 writ petitions against the House dissolution, but was bogged down in procedural matters on whether it should be heard by a full bench or a constitutional one.
As prime minister, Oli has clout over the Election Commission and the Supreme Court. But the Dahal-Nepal faction is piling on pressure from the streets, civil society, former Chief Justices, and on social and mainstream media for House restoration.
As nationwide demonstrations continue, the split in the party has now percolated down to the provinces. Analysts say that whichever way the Supreme Court rules, it will be the NCP that will lose out. A party with 65% majority in Parliament and leading six of the seven provincial governments has frittered it all away because two top leaders could not get along.
Although Prime Minister Oli sees himself as a shrewd politician, his biggest failure has been politics. He has failed in the past two and half years to accommodate rivals, if only to make his own position more secure. He chose confrontation, and seems ready to take the party down with him.
The NCP feud has also intensified a power struggle within the opposition Nepali Congress (NC). Sher Bahadur Deuba wants elections, while his rival Ram Chandra Poudel does not. Even if the House is restored, however, the NC will be kingmaker as both NCP factions will need its 60 MPs to form the next government.
Meanwhile, the Chinese have not given up trying to keep a party they helped unify, intact. One option being considered is to have both top leaders take part in cathartic self-criticism that Communists are famous for. But with so much bad blood between the two, that is not likely.
Waiting on the wings are the RPP with its pro-Hindu right monarchist agenda and the JSP, which is trying to cash in on public disillusionment with the old parties.
Zero-sum game for Nepal's ruling Communists, Kunda Dixit
Splitting and spitting, Nepali Times