Unilateral separationOli’s move to ram through controversial ordinances is not a good sign for democracy and cooperation.
It seems as if even a global pandemic, and the consequent crisis it has brought at home, is not enough to stop Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s seeming need to pull a fast one on everyone, including his own party members. To be sure, the past two and then some years have proved to the people that the prime minister’s main goal for his entire tenure is to maintain control—forget the grand promises of political stability, growth and prosperity. However, even by Oli’s own standards, choosing to ram through ordinances that have nothing to do with the handling of the current Covid-19 outbreak—in the middle of an extended and uncertain lockdown—is pushing it to a new low. Oli’s intention seems to be the shelving of the government’s relevance in terms of any particular agenda; he just wants to drag his party and government on until the next federal elections.
The current manoeuvre, coming to light in the late hours of April 20, revolved around the passing of two suspect ordinances. One of the ordinances—which had been tabled previously due to its controversial nature—revolves around the working of the Constitutional Council. The council, among its other functions, is responsible for the appointment of officials to the various constitutional bodies. This council usually includes in its membership the prime minister, the chief justice, Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, chairman of the National Assembly, and leader of the main opposition as members. Before the recent ordinance was passed, only a unanimous decision could be approved by the council. This provision existed in the spirit of partnership and cooperation, and to minimise the effects of majoritarianism. However, with Oli’s sneaky move, the Constitutional Council can take decisions with a majority, thereby sidelining the need for cooperation when the ruling party has a large majority in both houses. This goes entirely against the need for a constitutional council in its current form and makeup.
As if this major and blatant move wasn’t enough, Oli also unilaterally pushed through another ordinance—one related to the stability of political parties themselves. Nepali parties have a penchant for unification and separation to suit individual leaders’ vested interests. All major parties, including Nepali Congress, the Rastriya Prajatantra Party, the erstwhile Maoists and other communist factions have all undergone various unification and divorce phases in their history. To avoid fissures on the basis of a small minority of a party feeling sidelined, thereby creating larger issues of political instability, the Political Parties Act 2002 requires 40 percent of both the central committee of a party and its parliamentary arm to agree to a split for the party to fracture. The new ordinance allows parties to fracture with 40 percent of either of the mentioned entities agreeing, making such splits easier to engineer.
Experts are debating over the exact reason why Oli chose to pass this particular ordinance now. But whatever the exact reason may be, it is definitely a move to afford him more personal control over the running of government. It is no secret that Pushpa Kamal Dahal, the other chairman, has been building up support within the Nepal Communist Party Secretariat to challenge Oli’s tight-fisted rule. It is also no secret that the prime minister has been sinisterly attempting to accumulate a two-thirds majority in Parliament—an unnecessary move for an executive who already seems to be close to the president and whose party has a large enough majority to pass any laws, except for constitutional amendments.
By pushing through these ordinances, against the vocal opposition of a section of his own Cabinet, Oli seems to be gearing for a move to sideline many who stand in his way. The major opposition can be ignored in certain decision-making processes—against the spirit of the constitution. Moreover, he seems to be calling Dahal’s bluff by daring him to split the NCP. At the same time, the move could help fracture the Madhes-based parties, allowing some lawmakers to switch allegiance to Oli’s side, giving him more power in Parliament.
But whatever may be the reason, Oli’s move is myopic and self-serving. It is to be condemned as it is against democratic principles and rule of law. Also suspect is President Bidya Devi Bandari’s readiness to assist Oli in his schemes by expediting the signing of the ordinances. The prime minister must be willing to listen to all lawmakers, including those of the opposition. But the situation becomes even more precarious when Oli cannot even seem to trust his own party members and Cabinet. What, however, is true is that the ordinances have ended the agenda of stability, democracy and rule of law.
What do you think?
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