An unfolding tragedyThe prime minister may be down but is not out. Further conflict between claimants to power will cost us more.
Prime Minister KP Oli designed the two regressive ordinances to facilitate his narrow political interests. Four days after giving her seal of approval, President Bidhya Devi Bhandari on Friday annulled both at the request of the government. The cancellation put an end to a phase of events, which began with PM Oli's dramatic effort to split the Samajbadi party and weaken the Madhes-based parties.
Oli's moves appear to have backfired. A large chunk of the civil society and his party stood against him while the Rashtriya Janata Party and the Samajbadi Party went into overdrive for a merger.
The annulment of the two ordinances, however, is not the end of the story. Oli may be down but is not out. To bolster his position, PM Oli is likely to use the two remaining tools: executive control and the agenda of nationalism. Given that Oli's incentives remain intact, we may likely see tumultuous political events soon.
Amendment to the Political Parties Act
The ordinance amending the Political Parties Act 2073 made changes in four articles easing the restrictions for the split of smaller and new nationally recognised parties. The changes in the Act weakened the principles of multi-party democracy, particularly their ability to make elected members accountable.
The provision discriminated between members of parliament elected through the first past the post system (FPTP) and those elected through the proportional representation (PR) system. The move coincided with efforts to split the Samajbadi Party and alter the power equation in Province 2.
In addition to luring the potential defectors—those who were already dissatisfied with Upendra Yadav's leadership—by offering money, individuals close to the prime minister were threatening prosecution in cases of corruption, people directly knowledgeable about the chain of events claimed.
Weakening the Madhes-based forces by splitting them and changing the chief minister in Province 2 would have marked a satisfying personal victory for PM Oli.
Amendment to the Constitutional Council Act
Similarly, the first amendment to the Act Related to the Constitutional Council 2066, removed and replaced the earlier Article 6, which required unanimous decision among the six council members. The change allowed the council to meet even if only four council members are present and take decisions through a majority.
In the past, political parties had a habit of colluding to allocate constitutional positions to their cronies. In recent years, Oli has been using the council to strengthen executive control. It is one of the reasons why other political leaders were so peeved.
The greatest threat to the prime minister’s political authority has come from inside his party and from the Madhes. Therefore, he is abusing his executive control over bodies like the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) and the Department of Money Laundering Investigation (DMLI) to silence his political opponents, including Pushpa Kamal Dahal.
Everything in Nepali politics is tied to corruption. The latest cases of the two ordinances and the attempt to split the Samajbadi Party are reflections of this nexus.
The Office of the President
Oli's fight with Pushpa Kamal Dahal and the Madhesi forces is a long one. He had relented in recent months after his health worsened, but he seems to have upped his manoeuvrings after appearing to have recovered from his chronic malaise. The Office of the President has been complicit in partisan political manoeuvres and has frequently taken the lead in internal party politics of the Nepal Communist Party (NCP).
In recent years, the president has acted as an executive in many instances, whether in the conduction of foreign policy or taking part in government functioning. How the two ordinances were expedited by avoiding the regular process is worrisome. The latest episode marks another instance where the president has failed to uphold the constitution and rise above petty politics. Her moves have debased the office, undermined democratic principles and destabilised Nepali politics.
Legitimacy in crisis
The prime minister rose to power based on four agendas: nationalism, good governance, political stability and economic development. He used the nationalist agenda against India and good governance against Nepali Congress leader Sher Bahadur Deuba. People, who were dissatisfied with constant changes in government and horse-trading, approved the idea of political stability. Their frustration with poverty and conflict made them dream of economic development.
Within two-and-half years of his rule, most of his agenda has become irrelevant. His agenda of good governance has been exposed by reports of corruption and the desire to extend executive control by misusing democratic processes. Similarly, Covid-19 has dented the agenda of economic development.
As a result, PM Oli will only have recourse to the agenda of political stability and nationalism, although his agenda have considerably been weakened by his policies and practices.
The only way out for him to overcome the current crisis is to strengthen political dominance by extending executive control. In the days ahead, there will be a further conflict between Oli and other claimants to power, which will cost Nepal more.
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