Ready to host the new session of the House, says Speaker. Is the government listening?Insiders say Oli is not keen to call Parliament given the rising internal conflict in his Nepal Communist Party, as the floor could provide an opportunity to his opponents to build pressure on him.
Amid growing calls for the winter session of the House, Speaker Agni Sapkota on Monday said that his office is fully prepared to hold the meetings, leaving it up to the government to decide.
The budget session ended on July 2 after the Oli government suddenly recommended prorogation.
“We are fully prepared to commence the House session with all necessary safety arrangements in place,” Sapkota told reporters on Monday following the oath-taking ceremony of newly appointed lawmaker Mohan Pandey from the Nepali Congress. “We are holding consultations with the government as well.”
Constitutionally, the government is under no obligation to call the House session at least until January 1, but demands of late from within the ruling Nepal Communist Party and outside have grown for the winter session. As per the constitutional provisions, there should not be a gap of more than six months between the two sessions of the House.
The government’s reluctance to call the House, many say, has its roots in the ongoing conflict in Prime Minister KP Sharma’s Nepal Communist Party.
Oli, also the party chair, has once again been driven into a corner by his opponents–Pushpa Kamal Dahal, the other chair, and senior leaders Madhav Kumar Nepal, Jhala Nath Khanal, Bamdev Gautam and Narayan Kaji Shrestha.
The Dahal faction has been putting a squeeze on Oli, levelling serious allegations that he failed to run the party and the government and demanding that he step down. Insiders have told the Post on multiple occasions of late that this time around the Dahal faction is bent on forcing Oli to step down either as the party chair or prime minister.
While party chairmanship is Nepal Communist Party’s internal matter, for Oli to escape the growing pressure to step down as prime minister, he needs to avoid Parliament, say insiders. In such a scenario, Oli will try to delay the House session as long as he can, according to them.
When Oli decided to recommend House prorogation back in July, he was under pressure from the opponent faction. But a truce had returned in the party after Oli and Dahal reached an understanding, and subsequently in September, a task force made some recommendations on running the party and the government.
But the ceasefire did not last long and the Dahal faction has once again upped the ante against Oli.
The intra-party conflict in the ruling party this time seems to have reached a tipping point, with Oli on November 18 saying that he will have no reason to continue as party chair and prime minister if Dahal’s allegations are proved. But the accuser [Dahal] must step down [as executive chair] if he fails to back his charges with evidence, Oli told the Secretariat meeting.
Days later, Oli on Saturday held a meeting with Sher Bahadur Deuba, the leader of the opposition Nepali Congress, which the Dahal faction described as a ploy to threaten his opponents.
Nonetheless, many in the ruling party believe that Oli is keeping all his options open and that he can go to any extent to save his position.
“Firstly, Oli is afraid of criticism that he could face in Parliament,” said Rekha Sharma, a ruling party lawmaker and former minister. “Secondly, in the wake of recent developments, as the opponent faction in the party is building pressure on him, Oli does not want a House session. He will try to delay the House session for as long as he can.”
In the 275-member House of Representatives, the Nepal Communist Party has 173 seats. The Oli faction controls around 77 seats while the Dahal-Nepal faction claims to have 96 seats with them. If the Dahal-Nepal faction indeed takes its fight against Oli forward, it has enough numbers to file a no-confidence motion.
Article 100 (4) says one-fourth of the total number of the then members of the House of Representatives may table a motion of no-confidence in writing that the House has no confidence in the prime minister.
But to move a no-confidence motion, the House session must be in place.
Sher Bahadur Tamang, a ruling party lawmaker and former law minister, admitted that the internal conflict is responsible for the delay in calling the House session.
“The government must not and cannot escape Parliament,” said Tamang, who represents the former CPN-UML in the ruling party. “In the system we practice, the government is accountable to Parliament where people’s elected representatives sit.”
On Sunday, Law Minister Shiva Maya Tumbahangphe said that the winter session of the House will be called within January 1 next year. But she stopped short of saying when.
“The six-months gap between two sessions ends on January 1. The government will call the new session before that,” Tumbahangphe told reporters in response to queries why the government is introducing ordinances instead of calling the House.
Dev Prasad Gurung, chief whip of the ruling party, said no consultation has been held in the party regarding the House session, even though calls have been growing from lawmakers from across the political spectrum for the winter session.
There are dozens of bills also pending, some crucial ones, which could not be endorsed during the budget session.
The budget session of the federal parliament, which lasted 58 days, endorsed just six bills, in addition to the budget and second amendment to the constitution to adopt Nepal’s new political map.
Birodh Khatiwada, another ruling party lawmaker, said that the Oli government abruptly prorogued the House without any notice and that the winter session should have started long ago.
“It has become our tendency to call the House session at the last moment just because the constitutional provision does not allow any further delay,” Khatiwada, who represents the former UML, told the Post. “We cannot put the House hostage to the internal party conflict.”