No winners in latest Nepal political twist

The decision on Sunday by the Supreme Court that effectively makes the unification of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) null and void, just hours before a crucial recovering of the dissolved Lower House, has thrown the country’s politics into further turmoil and uncertainty.

This was reflected in the first session of the restored House on Sunday (pictured below) as the NCP faction led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal staged a walk out, saying Prime Minister K P Oli had no moral right to present ordinances in a House that he himself had dissolved on 20 December


As the House sat for the first time in two months, there was confusion about whether MPs of the NCP were in the ruling party or the opposition. Dahal called the Supreme Court decision “unexpected” and is said to be in consultations with his colleagues about the way forward. 

The alliance between the erstwhile UML led by Prime Minister K P Oli and the Maoist Centre headed by Dahal had won a near two-thirds majority in the 2017 election, and promised political stability in the country. Nepal’s politics has been anything but stable — mainly because Oli and Dahal could not get along.

The general impression was that Oli had pulled the rug from under his rivals, by going back to his old party and turning the clock back on unification. However, in doing this, Oli might have sacrificed his own leadership of government.

Prime Minister Oli will now have to prove that he has the confidence of a majority of the members of the House. However, there is no chance that the 53 or so members of the Dahal faction will now support him. 

“There are now two parties, and as soon as the rival party withdraws its backing, the prime minister has to demonstrate that he has the support of the house,” says constitutional expert Bhimarjun Acharya.

The House was reconvened by a Supreme Court decision on 23 February that overturned Prime Minister Oli’s dissolution. However, with the Dahal faction walking out and the opposition Nepali Congress (NC) raising slogans against the ordinances being proposed, the session had to go into recess. Speaker Agni Sapkota then recessed the House till Wednesday.

Another expert, Prof Purna Man Shakya said: “If he wants to remain prime minister Oli’s party will have to get additional votes for which the only way to muster support is from the Janata Samajwadi Party (JSP). Failing that, the Maoist Centre, NC and JSP could also form the government.”

The House of Representatives has 121 members from the former UML, 63 from the NC, 53 from the Maoist Centre and the JSP has 34. There are four independents. To have a majority in the 275 member House, the UML will need support from one other party, while the Maoist Centre will need three parties to come together.

But this arithmetic is complicated by the fact that some former UML are in the Dahal faction, while some ex-Maoists are with Oli. 

Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali says the Supreme Court decision actually allows party reunification. “Now we can plan to reunite the party in a more scientific and pragmatic way,” he said. 

The future of former Maoists who are ministers in the Oli Cabinet, like Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa and Energy Minister Top Bahadur Rayamajhi are also in doubt. The 2015 Constitution has an anti-defection clause for MPs, so they cannot now join the Maoist-Centre. Advocate Meghraj Pokhrel says former Maoist Centre ministers cannot now go over to the UML, they have to return to their original party. 

They cannot take part in a future Oli government if he manages support from other parties, and they will be in a dilemma to go back to the Dahal-led party. Members of parliament who won by-elections after the UML-Maoist unification is also uncertain.

The biggest loss will be to Madhav Kumar Nepal and Jhalnath Khanal, two former UML prime ministers who joined up with Dahal. They may now be forced to remain in the Oli-led UML. 

Constitutional expert Acharya says that the two leaders will require a 40% agreement from the Central Committee and the Parliamentary Party of the CPN-UML to join the Maoist Centre or to form a new party, which they do not have.

“Nepal and Khanal now face a dilemma whether to vote for or against PM Oli if the government tables a confidence motion in Parliament," Acharya says. “And Oli is likely to take action against them if they vote against him." 

The Supreme Court’s decision seems to have worked to Oli’s benefit and put the Nepal-Khanal camp in the horns of a dilemma, says Prof Shakya. 

"However, the Supreme Court makes decisions based on the Constitution and the rule of law, not based on who stands to gain or lose politically,” he adds. “Therefore we must analyse the decision in accordance with the constitution and the law.”