Nepal Supreme Court restores House

In what is a major setback to Prime Minister K P Oli, Nepal’s Supreme Court has overturned his dissolution on 20 December of the Lower House of Parliament and announcement of snap polls.

Ruling on 13 writ petitions against the prime minister’s recommendation to President Bidya Devi Bhandari, a Constitutional Bench Presided over by Chief Justice Cholendra SJB Rana quashed the decision, saying that the prime minister under the 2017 constitution did not have the authority to dissolve the House.

The Supreme Court also ordered that the Lower House be convened within 13 days, which means it has to meet by 8 March. The Constitutional Bench was made up of Rana, as well as Bishowambhar Shrestha, Anil Sinha, Sapana Pradhan Malla and Tej Bahadur KC. 

Prime Minister Oli had dissolved the House after a long-standing power struggle within the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP), between Oli and his arch rival Pushpa Kamal Dahal was reportedly preparing to register a vote of no confidence. 

The Constitutional Bench had been holding hearings on the writ petition for the past two months, including a debate by the amicus curie.

Although the court decision does end the uncertainty over the House dissolution, Nepal could face a period of political instability as the parties begin the process of proving their majority in the House to form a government.

The Dahal faction has already asked for Oli to step down on moral grounds, and his faction of the party has also vowed to take action against him. If he does not resign, there will have to be a vote of no confidence in the House.

Students aligned with the Dahal-Nepal faction of the Nepal Communist Party, stage rallies in Ratna Park, Kathmandu, welcoming the SC decision to reinstate the Lower House of Parliament. Photo: AMIT MACHAMASI/NEPALI TIMES

The Supreme Court decision ends two months of competition for ever-larger and expensive rallies on the streets as a show of force by both sides in what were seen as efforts to put pressure on the Constitutional Bench. 

Dahal was in Chitwan for another such demonstration on Wednesday, but announced that it would now be a victory rally.

“This is a victory for the constitution and democracy and the rule of law,” Dahal told a gathering as he heard news of the Supreme Court decision with his ally Madhav Kumar Nepal. “It is a defeat of counter-revolutionary forces.”

Oli himself appeared to have indications about the apex court’s decision this weekend when he said he believed the court would not reverse his House dissolution decision, but that he would abide by whatever the Court ruled. 

On Tuesday morning, he convened a meeting of the Security Council at Baluwatar, and after the decision came in the evening, he was huddled in a meeting with his ministers and advisers.

Oli is not expected to resign, but will try to rally support for a confidence vote when Parliament reconvenes in the coming week. The Dahal faction of the NCP has said it will not be satisfied with him stepping down, and that he will have to be punished for making an unconstitutional move. 

Even if Oli steps down, or loses a confidence vote in Parliament, it may just be the beginning of more political turmoil ahead as the House will then have to decide on forming a new government and finding a new prime minister.

With the NCP as good as split, the horse-trading will be fierce as both sides try to muster the majority necessary to form a new government. With 60 seats in Parliament, the Nepali Congress will find that it has kingmaker power disproportionate to its strength in the House.

But for the moment, most analysts agree that with its decision the Supreme Court has re-established the independence of the judiciary and supremacy of the Constitution. The Bench unanimously decided that Oli had behaved in an unconstitutional manner by dissolving the House and calling for premature polls. 

Said advocate Tikaram Bhattarai: “The Supreme Court has brought Nepali politics back on the constitutional tracks, it is a historical decision that now sets a precedent for the future.”