Oli’s sudden issuance of two ordinances raises concerns of a party split in the makingOne particular ordinance to amend provisions regarding new party registration has alarmed the political spectrum, especially as it comes in the middle of a pandemic.
Anil Giri & Tika R Pradhan
In the midst of a global pandemic that has almost shuttered the entire world, the KP Sharma Oli Cabinet introduced two ordinances on Monday—both unrelated to the fight against Covid-19.
The two ordinances, presented suddenly, are related to political parties and the Constitutional Council. Both ordinances were swiftly passed by the Office of the President in a well-choreographed move where President Bidya Devi Bhandari’s approval arrived in the middle of a Secretariat meeting called to discuss the ordinances.
The ordinance related to political parties, in particular, has raised serious concerns across the political spectrum, given its timing and the manner in which it was issued—without consultations in the ruling Nepal Communist Party or the wider Cabinet.
The ordinance amends an existing provision in the Political Parties Act that currently requires 40 percent support from both the party central committee and the parliamentary party in order to split. After the amendment, a split vote will only require 40 percent support from either the central committee or the parliamentary party.
According to two ministers that the Post spoke to, the Cabinet introduced the ordinances despite reservations from several of them.
“Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali, Agriculture Minister Ghanshyam Bhusal and Energy Minister Barshaman Pun had all expressed reservations about the ordinances,” one of the ministers, who did not wish to be identified, told the Post. “We urged the prime minister not to introduce the ordinances because this is not an appropriate time. But he did not listen.”
According to the minister, Oli did not elaborate on why he was seeking to amend laws related to political parties and the Constitutional Council.
Many say the move by Oli, who finds himself cornered amid criticism over his poor handling of the Covid-19 crisis, could be aimed at the Pushpa Kamal Dahal faction, the other party chair.
Immediately after the Cabinet decision, the Maoist camp held a hurriedly called meeting at Khumaltar, Dahal’s residence. Ministers from the Maoist camp, led by Energy Minister Pun, apprised Dahal of developments. After he was briefed about the ordinance, Dahal told leaders that Oli’s move was wrong and that it had not been discussed with him, according to one of the ministers present at the meeting. Dahal then telephoned Oli and asked him to call an emergency meeting of the party Secretariat.
In the sudden Secretariat meeting, Oli attempted to assuage the Maoist faction. According to party General Secretary Bishnu Poudel, the prime minister told the meeting that the ordinance was necessary to make “legal provisions compatible with democratic practices” and because constitutional appointments were being affected.
“The Secretariat meeting concluded that decisions on such important issues must be taken after discussions,” said Narayan Kaji Shrestha, the party spokesperson. “The prime minister told the meeting that there was nothing to discuss more as the President has already approved the ordinances.”
The information of the presidential approval came when the leaders including Dahal were urging Oli to withdraw the ordinances.
In the ruling Nepal Communist Party, the 445-member central committee has a 60:40 ratio of former CPN-UML leaders and Maoist Centre leaders. In the federal parliament, the ruling party has 174 seats–121 representing the former UML and 53 the Maoists.
Despite the former UML commanding a significant majority in both bodies, the UML vote is likely to be split among the various other factions—led by Madhav Kumar Nepal, Jhala Nath Khanal and Bamdev Gautam. All of them of late have switched camps to side with Dahal, creating unease in the Oli camp.
Former Maoist leaders said that Oli’s move is a precursor to a party split.
“The party was already divided, Oli just took a formal decision today,” said Haribol Gajurel, a standing committee member who has close relations with Dahal. “He has spoiled both the government and the party. The party cannot tolerate his autocratic decisions any longer.”
According to Gajurel, Oli has realised that he cannot secure 40 percent of both the central committee and the parliamentary party, which is why he introduced the ordinance.
Other leaders, however, believe that the ordinance is not aimed at the ruling party but rather, at one of the two Madhesi parties—the Samajbadi Party Nepal and the Rastriya Janata Party Nepal.
Until December, the Oli government had the support of the Samajbadi Party, after the Janata Party withdrew support in March last year following a court decision to send its lawmaker Resham Chaudhary to life in prison over the 2015 Kailali violence.
In December, the Samajbadi Party quit the government and Oli managed to woo back the Janata Party by forging an alliance for the National Assembly election.
The two Madhesi parties hold 17 seats each in Parliament, the largest numbers after the primary opposition Nepali Congress’ 63 members.
Oli’s stay in government has not yet become untenable, but given evolving dynamics and growing criticism of his government, he is preparing himself for the worst, said one party leader.
“Oli is paving the way for splits in the Madhesi parties, just in case he fails to get support from the various factions in his own party when he has to pass the [no confidence] floor test,” said the leader. In the 275-strong House of Representatives, one has to secure 138 votes to become prime minister.
But that’s the worst case scenario, if the Dahal camp tries to pull the rug from under Oli, he said.
Multiple leaders the Post spoke with said that the ordinance was introduced at the request of some leaders from the Janata and Samajbadi parties.
The existing provision stopped these parties, which are led by politicians who have a history of splitting their parties, from fracturing.
Leaders from both Madhesi parties, however, rejected outright the insinuation that they want to split their parties to join the Oli government.
“This is the most inhumane drama by Oli at this time of crisis when the world is fighting the pandemic,” said Rajendra Mahato, a leader of the six-member praesidium of the Janata Party. “Oli has been trying to appease us for the last two years.”
According to Mahato, his party leaders are intact and united. “We are rather still working on ways to materialise our unity bid with the Samajbadi Party,” said Mahato.
A Samajbadi Party leader also ruled out the possibility of joining the Oli government.
“These are just rumours that some of our leaders are trying to split the party,” said the leader who did not wish to be named. “It will not help the Madhes-based parties to join the government or to split.”
Leaders said the ordinance related to the Constitutional Council is also somehow related to the other. A similar ordinance was sent to Sheetal Niwas about six months ago, but the President did not approve it following criticism from different sections of the society, including the main opposition Nepali Congress.
The ordinance related to the Constitutional Council seeks to amend provisions allowing the body to take decisions even in the absence of the leader of the opposition and even if the Speaker is from a different party.
The Constitutional Council, headed by the prime minister, consists of 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. The minister for law and justice also takes a seat when the appointment is related to the judiciary while the chief secretary functions as the secretary of the council.