Oli asking poll body not to get into any party disputes raises concernsAs polls are not possible until the Nepal Communist Party issue is resolved, analysts wonder if the prime minister has a different game plan to drive his opponents into a corner.
A day after the Cabinet decided to conduct polls in 40 districts on April 30 and 37 districts on May 10, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli on Tuesday reached the Election Commission “to take stock of the ongoing preparations”.
The Oli government declared polls for April 30 and May 10 on December 20 after dissolving the House of Representatives, a move which has been challenged in the Supreme Court. The Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court is yet to complete the hearing.
The House dissolution led to the splitting of the Nepal Communist Party, with the other faction led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Madhav Kumar Nepal demanding restoration of the House—and on one occasion even asking the poll body to halt its preparations.
The Election Commission is yet to decide to which faction the Nepal Communist Party belongs, as both Oli as well as Dahal and Nepal are staking claim to the party.
Oli, who has been repeatedly saying that the House cannot be restored and making a pitch for the elections, on Tuesday told election officials not to get into the Nepal Communisty Party dispute.
“Saying that the commission should not discuss the party dispute(s) anymore, since the election period has already begun as per the Election Commission’s regulations, the prime minister expressed confidence that the commission will work in accordance with the law and abide by the process,” says a statement issued by the Election Commission after Oli’s visit to its office. “He also congratulated the commission and newly appointed commissioners on getting a full shape.”
Stating that there was no dispute before December 20, prime minister Oli had said as per the regulation on political parties the Election Commission cannot enter into the dispute within 120 days after the polls are announced. Oli had also said he was the first chairman and had signed all the recommendations for the candidates of bypolls and National Assembly and therefore his signature should be valid.
As soon as the disputes arose in the Nepal Communist Party following the dissolution of the House of Representatives, the Election Commission had amended Rule 5(8) and Rule 23(6) of the Regulation on Political Parties-2018 that restricted the commission to look after the disputes once the election was announced.
But many, including former election officials, wonder, how elections can take place without resolving the Nepal Communist Party dispute.
While the Dahal-Nepal faction had approached the Election Commission on December 25 seeking to update the changes made in the party, including office-bearers, of details in the officer-bearers–saying that they have a majority of the 441 Central Committee members on their side.
The Oli faction, however, had enlarged its Central Committee to 1,501, saying majority members were with it.
On January 24 the Election Commission, however, refused to recognise either faction as the legitimitate Nepal Communist Party, saying it could recognise only one Nepal Communist Party—the one which was registered with it and just Oli and Dahal as its chairs. This meant the commission did not recognise Madhav Kumar Nepal as the chair of the other faction. The other faction’s Central Committee meeting on December 22 had elevated Madhav Nepal as the other chair of the party, giving him the status equal to Dahal.
In an interview with the Post a couple of weeks ago, Bhojraj Pokharel, former chief election commissioner, had described elections as a game and political parties as the players.
“Unless the players are ready, the game cannot commence,” Pokharel told the Post.
But Oli now has been asking the commission not to enter the communist party’s dispute. While both the factions have so far updated their details, none has approached the poll body with an application that says it wants to be registered as a new party.
As per Section 33 (2) of the Political Parties Act-2017, a new party can be formed by splitting a party with the support of at least 40 percent members of the Parliamentary Party and Central Committee of the existing party. Since there is no Parliamentary Party after the House dissolution, a party split can be ensured just with signatures of 40 percent of Central Committee members.
The Dahal-Nepal faction on February 2 had reached the Election Commission to stake claim to the Nepal Communist Party and the sun election symbol as per Clauses 43 and 44 of Political Parties Act-2017. The commission says it is still studying the application.
The commission has entrusted the newly appointed commissioner Ram Prasad Bhandari with the task of preparing a report for settling the dispute of the ruling party.
Neither faction wants to be seen as the cause of the split and that has put the commission in a fix.
Even if any of the factions now wants to get itself registered as a splinter party, it is not possible as the deadline for making such a move has already expired.
As per Clause 44 of Political Parties Act-2017, a faction must apply before the commission within 30 days from the date the dispute started.
In Nepal Communist Party’s case, the dispute started on December 22 when the party split politically.
If the polls were to happen on the declared dates, the first phase voting must take place on the 80th day from today.
Oli’s instructions to the poll body not to enter into the Nepal Communist Party dispute now can have multiple implications, according to analysts.
According to Shyam Shrestha, a political commentator, since Oli has already gotten his previous party CPN-UML registered with the Election Commission, he might be trying to reclaim the UML and the rising sun as the election symbol.
“By telling the commission not to enter into the party conflict, Oli seems to be trying to influence the poll body to freeze the Nepal Communist Party and the sun election symbol if it cannot make a decision in his favour,” said Shrestha. “This is yet another example of misuse of power and position. This sort of activity is unacceptable in democratic practices.”
But it’s not just about what party and symbol Oli gets.
Analysts say the larger game Oli might be trying to play is not only getting things in his favour but also to drive the other faction led by his opponents into a corner.
If the Nepal Communist Party and the sun election symbol are frozen by the commission as a result of indecision—or its compliance with Oli’s instruction not to get into the party dispute, the Dahal-Nepal faction will be left without a party.
They won’t be able to register even a new party, which will mean they either have to woo any other party already registered with the commission or boycott the polls altogether.
Pokharel, the former chief election commissioner, said the prime minister could have asked the commission to focus on polls which the government has already announced.
“It’s natural that both sides will try to influence the poll body to make them look stronger,” Pokharel told the Post. “But it’s now up to the Election Commission to take decisions analysing the developments in the country’s best interest.”
According to Pokharel, if the prime minister has indeed asked the commission not to get into any party dispute, it will mean the Nepal Communsit Party (Oli faction) also would not be able to join the polls.
“If polls were to be held, the players—the political parties—must be ready,” said Pokharel. “And for that the Nepal Communist Party dispute must be resolved.”
If the Dahal-Nepal faction is not satisfied with the commission decision and decides to boycott polls, questions could arise over the commission as well as the validity of elections if they happen without a major party or its leaders’ participation.
Officials at the Election Commission say they are committed to holding the polls, despite the fact that they have a very limited time for that. There are, according to them, however, two pressing issues—the court case and the Nepal Communist Party dispute.
“We are preparing to manage and procure necessary logistics by shortening the procurement process and expediting the voter list update process,” said Raj Kumar Shrestha, the commission’s spokesperson. “Election centres have almost been finalised.”
According to Shrestha, there is pressure given the limited time.
“But holding elections on schedule is our responsibility,” said Shrestha.
Even if the court clears the way for the elections, the last outstanding issue will be resolution of the Nepal Communist Party dispute.
Nilkantha Uprety, also a former chief election commissioner, said that the government that declares the polls should facilitate smooth elections by extending the required support to the Election Commission rather than dictating it.
“The government should assist the Election Commission; it cannot direct the poll body,” Uprety told the Post. “The prime minister’s statement could be a political one, but without ensuring peace, elections cannot be held.”
According to Uprety, the Commission must understand—and make it clear to all—that creating obstacles to any party from taking part in the polls would mean the whole country would fall into a crisis.
“The Election Commission cannot overlook the dispute in the country’s largest party,” said Uprety. “The commission, as it is an independent constitutional body, must work without getting influenced by orders, if there are any, from the executive. If the commission starts taking orders from the government on how it should function, that will mean there is no prospect of fair polls.”