Political flux and geopolitical manoeuvresDespite the Supreme Court decision, the murky political waters of Nepal do not appear to be quietening anytime soon.
The constitution that was feared to have been ominously derailed due to Prime Minister KP Oli’s move to dissolve the House of Representatives has been put back on track by the Supreme Court verdict. The verdict from the Constitutional Bench of the apex court not only reinstated the House, but it also reasserted the independence of the judiciary and rightly exercised the principle of separation of power among the organs of the State; integral to the existence and functioning of any democracy.
More importantly, the interpretation of the spirits of key constitutional provisions related to the prime minister's constitutional right to the dissolution of Parliament, which for all practical purposes now forms a part of the current constitution, will go a long way to ensure political stability in the country. One of the key constitutional principles laid out by the verdict (page 8) is: 'Except in the conditions set by the constitution itself and on purported basis dubbed as necessary by anybody through personal wishes or self-centred interests, and just citing the basic values, norms and practices of the parliamentary system as long as other alternatives (of forming the next government) are available; the act of dissolving of the House of Representatives causing an economic burden on the people, except in the event of periodic elections, was not in line with the essence and objectives of the constitution; therefore, the same act (dissolution) is unconstitutional.' The verdict has also set the date for the commencement of the next session of the House as the thirteenth day of the verdict, which falls on March 8.
But, despite this relative easing of the constitutional gridlock, the murky political waters of Nepal do not appear to be quietening anytime soon. The cocktail of political flux and increased geopolitical meandering makes a dignified democratic way-out from the current political mess still highly flimsy.
Still, Prime Minister Oli, who is determined to cling to power by all means available, still stands as an impeding boulder to the alternative political equation. He has not only refused to resign on moral grounds—even after the Court unambiguously termed his House dissolution unconstitutional—but has opted to flex his political muscle to exploit constitutional loopholes and form a new political alliance to retain his prime ministerial berth.
If the prognosis of his key confidantes and strategists is anything to go by, Oli's position has been significantly consolidated after the verdict. Former House speaker and now probably the most high-profile Oli aide, Subash Nembang, declared that no one can 'touch' Oli for the next one year. The newly appointed chief whip of the Oli faction of the parliamentary party in the House, Bishal Bhattarai, has claimed that out of 174 members representing the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) in the House, more than one hundred still remain loyal to Oli.
Despite several tall claims, the faction of the Party led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Madhav Kumar Nepal has remained short of proving otherwise, indirectly putting weight on Oli's statement. Their dilly-dallying on taking the most obvious political course of removing Oli from the position of the parliamentary party leader has certainly raised questions on the 'proven' majority on the side of the Oli-detractors in the NCP parliamentary party. Since Oli is prepared not to budge by tenets of moral obligation and democratic righteousness, the power struggle both within and outside of the NCP is poised only to be exacerbated with added complexities.
Oli can either propose a vote of confidence in the House of Representatives under Article 100 of the constitution, or face the no-confidence motion under Article 298. Given his nature, Oli is unlikely to seek the confidence vote. When the no confidence motion is tabled, the onus of proving the simple majority in favour of the motion in 275-member House lies with his opponents. For this, a completely new political equation needs to emerge; the shape and nature of which is yet to transpire. Since the ruling NCP is yet a legally undivided party, other two potential allies to enable either faction of the NCP to form government, Nepali Congress and Janata Samajwadi Party (JSP), are still undecided about their future course of action or allegiance.
Either section of the NCP that pulls at least seventy-five parliamentarians can form the government with the support of Nepali Congress (which has sixty-three seats in the federal lower house). But to form a government only with the support of JSP, the NCP break-away faction must have at least 100 members on its side for the simple majority. All this is only possible with a highly unbecoming sight in parliamentary democracy—that of members of Parliament of an officially undivided party sitting both in the opposition and ruling sides.
With Nepal's increased political fluidity, the strategic interests, particularly, of her two immediate neighbours, India and China, of extending or retaining their respective influence on Nepal are reported to have been substantially increased. It is an open secret by now that China's preference is keeping the NCP intact, even at the cost of dispensing of KP Oli as the prime minister. If possible, it wants to see Dahal as the next prime minister—as the prize primarily for his role in obstructing the parliamentary ratification process of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) compact Nepal signed with the United States. China sees MCC as part of the US's Indo-Pacific strategy designed to counter the foray of the Belt and Road Initiative in the region.
India for the last few years has adopted a wait-and-watch strategy while the entire Nepal Communist Party were cashing-in on Chinese pampering for their vested interests. It appears largely contented for now on being able to bring Oli back to its fold and to break the NCP mould that was increasingly seen as an extended wing of the Communist Party of China. The South Block is keen to see the next government more democratic in ideological tilt and, more importantly, friendly to India. Needless to mention, the priority of the Western powers including the US naturally coincide with the one of India. But, for Nepal, this endless meddling by big powers will only further complicate the political process, rather than facilitate it to amicably settle down.