A Kathmandu Spring
The Nepal Communist Party (NCP) has by now squandered the overwhelming mandate it got in the 2017 elections to govern for five years, and its future now rests on an impending decision by the Supreme Court.
While the verdict could go either way, what is certain is that one of the two NCP factions is going to lose out.
Whether it will be the establishment faction led by Prime Minister K P Oli or the breakaway group headed by Pushpa Kamal Dahal, will be decided in the upcoming weeks. Oli’s group is in government and says it is preparing for snap elections in April-May, while Dahal’s supporters are in the streets demanding a reinstatement of the Lower House.
Both are trying to demonstrate their popular support by renting bigger and bigger crowds, and thus influence the Supreme Court, and the Elections Commission which has to decide which faction gets the party’s Sun symbol and name. Both sides are sanguine that the Supreme Court and the Elections Commission will rule in their favour.
Nepal’s current political crisis is not a result of any great ideological disagreement, but a personal power struggle between Oli and Dahal after NCP unity. This may be why rallies by both Oli and Dahal have been packed with cadre and people bused in from the districts, and without much spontaneous popular participation so far.
Whichever way the Supreme Court verdict goes, Nepal’s politics will be in turmoil as the power centres and politicians jockey for supremacy, even as regional geopolitics influence the outcome. Beijing has been openly lobbying against an NCP split, while the Indo-American alliance would like to see Nepal’s communists divided and weakened.
“Even if the House is reinstated, a new struggle for supremacy will begin within the party to form an election government,” predicts political commentator Shyam Shrestha. “It will not be as easy as before when the NCP had a two-thirds majority, and the permutations and combinations of coalition-building will be wide open.”
If the House is restored, Shrestha sees the Dahal faction forming a government in coalition with the Nepali Congress and Janata Samajbadi Party Nepal. But if the Court rules in favour of the dissolution, he sees instability and chaos.
Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali admits that there is some uncertainty because of the wait for the Supreme Court decision. He says, “But once it rules in favour of dissolution, that will steer the country’s mood towards elections. The conditions are right for polls, the Nepali Congress, Janata Samajbadi Party and smaller parties are all ready, there are no major security issues, and the Election Commission is getting ready. So whoever gets a majority will govern the country. The alternative will be a return to unstable coalition politics of the past.”
However, the political futures of Oli and Dahal will also rest on the Supreme Court’s decision on the 13 writ petitions that are currently being heard. Oli’s ambitions will be derailed if the House is reinstated, while Dahal and his supporters will suffer a setback if it is not. So much rests on the Court’s decision that it has become a prestige issue for both sides, which could be why Dahal has been using threatening language towards the Election Commission and the Supreme Court, hinting that it is being influenced by Baluwatar.
Some in the NCP see the possibility of the elections actually bringing the two factions of the NCP closer, but Central Committee member Beduram Bhusal disagrees. “There is just too much bad blood. For now, I see zero percentage possibility of reunification.”
In case the House is restored, the choice for the Dahal faction is to go for election or agitation. However, it may not be so easy for Dahal and his supporters to “unleash a hurricane” as he has threatened.
Bhusal, however, says his party has not planned for an elections scenario. “Even if the house is not restored, there will not be any elections. Why plan for something that will not happen?” says the Dahal loyalist.
For Oli, a Court decision to restore the House is equally fraught. He will either have to resign, or face a no confidence vote in Parliament.