Reinstate, remove, repeat
On Monday, Nepal's Supreme Court restored the House of Representatives that Prime Minister KP Oli had dissolved for the second time on 22 May. It then ordered the Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba to be installed as the next Prime Minister.
Sher Bahadur Deuba has now been appointed Prime Minister for the 5th time and preparations are already underway to form a new cabinet of ministers.
Maoist Centre’s Pushpa Kamal Dahal has been tasked to finalise ministerial portfolios with Deuba while JSP has called a meeting of the Central Executive Committee today to decide on the ministers.
In his address to the nation on Tuesday afternoon, outgoing Prime Minister Oli said that his party would accept the verdict but delivered a pointed rebuke to the Supreme Court ruling, including its decision to stop any action against UML dissidents, claiming that the move would undermine the multi-party system and democracy.
“Such misinterpretation of the constitution for the fulfilment of certain aspirations of certain individuals has, in fact, served to amend the constitution regressively. Our democratic system will have to pay the price for the political implications of this decision,” he said.
He added: “I had the people’s mandate but the order of the Supreme Court was in Sher Bahadur Deuba’s favour.”
Deuba, leading a five-party alliance of 146 MPs — from his own Nepali Congress, the Maoist Centre, as well dissident factions of the JSP and the UML — had filed a writ petition on 24 May after President Bidya Bhandari thwarted claims of a House majority to form the next government.
The Supreme Court verdict by Chief Justice Cholendra JB Rana and his bench was the apotheosis of Oli’s years-long attempt to hold on to power, characterised by bitter infighting within the erstwhile NCP, ultimately leading to his estrangement from the party co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal as well as from comrades within his own UML.
Ahead of his appointment, Deuba welcomed the Supreme Court’s order in a press release put out on Tuesday morning, which stated that the decision had put the constitution—which had veered off-course— back on track, and reinstated the faith and trust of the people in an independent judiciary.
“Rather than taking the court’s decision as a matter of personal win or loss, the decision must be used for the betterment of our democracy, constitution, and our country and its people,” it read.
Meanwhile, UML lawmaker Bijay Subba in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling said the right to appoint the Prime Minister lies only within parliament and blamed lawmakers for taking politics to the court.
“The constitution clearly states the rights of the legislative, executive, and the judiciary. The court does not have the right to select the Prime Minister. It is against the principle of separation of powers,” he said.
Subba also deemed the court’s ruling to stop any action against the UML dissidents unconstitutional, saying, “In a party system, per the spirit of the constitution, parliamentarians must align with the party whip.”
Responding to the accusation, the Supreme Court said that it was the president’s responsibility to appoint the prime minister. But in case of an unconstitutional action, it will take steps to rectify them.
Now, the newly-appointed Prime Minister must seek a vote of confidence in the House of Representatives within 30 days under Article 76(4) of the constitution. Any member of the house who backs PM Deuba shall not be penalised for not voting along party lines, the Supreme Court also ordered.
If Deuba gets a majority, he cannot be subjected to any future no-confidence motion and will remain Prime Minister for the remainder of the tenure of the House and preside over the next election.
But if he fails to get a vote of confidence, the President, on Deuba’s recommendation, will dissolve the House once again and set a date for elections to be held within the next six months, per Article 76(7) of the constitution.
Monday’s Supreme Court verdict also barred any disciplinary action against the UML dissidents who were a part of Deuba’s alliance. However, Madhav Kumar Nepal, who led the dissident UML faction in support of Deuba’s Prime Ministership bid, withdrew his support from the opposition alliance following the court ruling.
Oli had been trying to patch things up with Nepal before the verdict, with working groups from both sides having come up with a 10-point deal to address differences within the UML.
But between the appointment of Deuba as the new prime minister and Nepal withdrawing his support from the opposition, the fate of UML and its unification remains undecided.
Shristi Karki is a correspondent with Nepali Times. She joined Nepali Times as an intern in 2020, becoming a part of the newsroom full-time after graduating from Kathmandu University School of Arts. Karki has reported on politics, current affairs, art and culture.