He was chosen to strengthen the charter. He has left it weakenedIn three years, Oli took measures to impair federalism until he dealt a blow to the constitution, throwing stability dream down the drain and inviting uncertainties.
When KP Sharma Oli was elected prime minister three years ago, he emerged as a strong leader. Expectations ran high as the country had achieved a long-cherished dream of having political stability and an administration that would govern for the full term. Nepalis were fed up with political instability and frequent changes in government.
Oli who had established himself as a nationalist leader declared the high-sounding slogan of “Prosperous Nepal, Happy Nepali” his mantra. But as months passed by, Oli’s slogan gradually became an annoying refrain.
Analysts say Oli badly failed in utilising the mandate he was given and he rather started to walk on the regressive path from the outset. There is hardly anything remarkable about Oli’s three years as prime minister except that he got a new map published, according to them.
The joint election manifesto of the CPN-UML and the CPN (Maoist Centre), which had forged an alliance to fight the 2017 elections, had said that results of the development would be seen from the third year of the government, as the first two years would be spent to set the foundations.
One of the major tasks of the Oli government was strengthening federalism and implementing the constitution.
But Oli’s lack of commitment to federalism was on display from the very beginning. Despite making development his agenda, people were hardly convinced. As Oli entered his second year, the pandemic had hit the country. While the Oli government’s response to Covid-19 remained poor, ministers faced corruption charges. Oli’s promise to control corruption was limited to his speeches.
And just when he was about to complete three years in office, he dealt a massive blow to stability—and the constitution.
On December 20, Oli dissolved the House of Representatives over his fight with his opponents—Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Madhav Kumar Nepal—in the Nepal Communist Party.
He has called elections for April 30 and May 10—one and a half years before schedule. Most of the political forces are out on the streets calling his House dissolution move unconstitutional. The House dissolution move is being heard by the Supreme Court. Declared poll dates are less than three months away.
Oli was elected to ensure stability but he has thrown the country into uncertainties, analysts say.
“By the time he completed his three years, Oli has pushed the country into such a grave situation that we are at risk of becoming a failed state,” said Rajendra Maharjan, a political commentator. “The prosperity and socialism slogans were just smoke and mirrors. There was no concrete plan, vision or commitment.”
Ever since dissolving the House, Oli has been repeating that elections were a must to ensure stability—something which he destroyed with a stroke of the pen on December 20.
As Oli threw the stability dream down the drain, he also assaulted the constitution and democratic values, analysts say.
“Oli utilised his three years in office in such a way that he did everything that would take the country downwards,” said Shyam Shrestha, a political analyst, who has followed left politics for decades. “He has burnt the constitution and turned it into ashes. He has ignored major issues like federalism, inclusiveness and secularism.”
With a strong mandate, Oli had the opportunity to institutionalise federalism and strengthen the constitution. While federalism was always at risk under Oli, the constitution got a deadly blow from him.
Oli showed his penchant for centralising power ever since he took office. He continued to make statements that provinces are just administrative units under the federal government, which showed his lack of commitment to federal set-up ensured by the constitution.
Observers say Oli did not give two hoots about the constitution and democratic values, as his authoritarian tendencies had become apparent from his early days in power. Oli never hid his contempt for civil liberty, freedom of expression and media freedom–the tenets of a democracy.
In a democracy, the government is accountable to the people through the elected representatives, but Oli treated the hallowed Parliament as the executive’s subservient. Fearing that he could be held accountable for his government’s failures and could even be removed from the office, Oli suddenly prorogued the House on July 2 last year. The next season never commenced. He killed the very House that had elected him prime minister.
“Oli showed no respect for rules, laws and procedures. He was bent on governing through ordinances,” said Shrestha.
Days before dissolving the House, Oli tried to disturb the balance of power by introducing a controversial ordinance on the Constitutional Council Act. Despite criticism and his promise to withdraw the ordinance, he went on to make appointments to the constitutional bodies, installing people of his choice. The constitutional bodies are envisioned by the constitution as independent agencies whose job is to put a check on the government.
According to Maharjan, the political commentator, Oli’s commitment to the issues of federalism, secularism and inclusiveness was questionable even during the constitution drafting process.
Even though Nepali Congress’ Sushil Koirala was prime minister when the constitution was promulgated, Oli was the main protagonist in rushing the charter amid opposition from various sections of the society.
“Now Oli has turned out to be a leader who could go to any extent to hold on to power–even if it means undoing democracy,” said Maharjan. “We are seeing democratic backsliding under Oli.”
Oli, however, has been blaming his opponents for not being able to perform well. Oli has on a number of occasions tried to justify his House dissolution move, saying he was forced to take the step because of his opponents in the Nepal Communist Party led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Madhav Kumar Nepal.
After the House dissolution, the party has politically split, with the Dahal-Nepal faction protesting against Oli’s move.
A leader from the Dahal-Nepal faction said by wasting three years in office, Oli squandered the opportunity history had bestowed on him.
“It was as though he was on an ego trip,” said Raghuji Pant, a Standing Committee member of the Nepal Communist Party (Dahal-Nepal faction). “He had the people’s mandate and the party’s backing. In three years, he could have done so much to strengthen federalism and the constitution. Instead, he did the opposite.”
Shrestha, the political analyst, said apart from carrying out development works, taking care of citizens and protecting the country from outside interference, a government’s yet another important task is strengthening democracy.
“But the Oli government plunged our democracy into an abyss,” said Shrestha.