House braces for Nepal Communist Party factional infightingHalf of the party still is ruling the country and the other half is acting as the ‘opposition’ trying to unseat Oli, raising risks of confrontation when the House convenes.
Three years ago, the Nepal Communist Party ruled the roost, enjoying nearly a two-thirds majority in Parliament. When the Parliament meeting convenes after a tumultuous period of eight months on March 7, half of it will be the “ruling” party and the other half the “opposition”.
The infighting in the Nepal Communist Party initially prompted Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli to suddenly prorogue the budget session on July 2 last year. And five months later he dissolved Parliament, saying his opponents in the party did not allow him to work.
But the Supreme Court on February 23 overturned Oli’s move and ordered authorities to summon the House meeting. President Bidya Devi Bhandari on Monday called the House meeting for March 7, Sunday.
The Nepal Communist Party, however, has split now, at least politically. Around 90 lawmakers of the total 173 are said to be with Dahal and Nepal and the rest–83–with Oli.
Parliament officials say it’s up to the Nepal Communist Party lawmakers how they sit when the House meeting commences.
“For us, all of them belong to the ruling Nepal Communist Party,” said Gopalnath Yogi, secretary of the House of Representatives.
Ever since the Supreme Court overturned the House dissolution decision, the Dahal-Nepal faction has been demanding Oli’s resignation on moral grounds. But Oli has refused to budge and challenged Dahal and Nepal to oust him through a no-confidence motion.
A day after making a similar challenge, Oli on Monday said in Pokhara that if they had guts they should come up with a no-confidence motion.
“They can remove me by tabling a no-confidence motion but are trying to throw me out forcibly,” he said. “They said they have a majority in the Central Committee but where have they proven that? That is not a majority.”
The Dahal-Nepal faction had on December 20, the day the House was unconstitutionally dissolved, filed a no-confidence motion against Oli.
Though it was said to have been registered at the Parliament Secretariat at 10:30 in the morning, it was later revealed that the registration time was 3:30 in the afternoon.
The time is of the essence because the House was dissolved at around 1 in the afternoon.
Since the no-confidence motion was registered at 3:30pm, after the House was dissolved, the Dahal-Nepal faction believes it could have become null and void as per the court order.
The Dahal-Nepal faction on Monday decided not to move the no-confidence motion when the House resumes on Sunday.
“It will be difficult to establish the motion as the Supreme Court has stated that the House has reached the state before it was dissolved on December 20,” said Krishna Bhakta Pokhrel, a lawmaker and Central Committee member of the Dahal-Nepal faction. “The party, however, will take a decision about another no-confidence motion after consulting with [other] parties.”
The Dahal-Nepal faction, which was buoyed by the Supreme Court decision to reinstate the House, is in a fix.
Unless Oli resigns of his own volition, there is no way the Dahal-Nepal faction can unseat him, unless it files a new no-confidence motion and secures the support of the Nepali Congress, which controls 63 seats (two suspended).
But the Congress so far has not made its position clear, and indications are that it could rather side with Oli.
Over the last two months, the bitterness between the leaders of the two factions of the Nepal Communist Party has grown so exponentially that some say a confrontation between lawmakers from both sides cannot be ruled out.
Before the House meeting convenes on Sunday, the Business Advisory Committee will hold a meeting to set the agenda for the day’s proceedings.
The committee, chaired by the House Speaker, is attended by chief whips and whips of major parties and lawmakers selected by the Speaker, besides deputy speaker as vice-chair and law minister as a member. The Speaker can select lawmakers as members of the committee from different parties. There is currently no deputy speaker.
Three days after the court decision to reinstate the House, Oli on February 26 appointed Bishal Bhattarai as the chief whip of the Nepal Communist Party, removing Dev Gurung, a leader of the Dahal-Nepal faction.
Insiders say Gurung is already a member of the Business Advisory Committee, thereby making Speaker Agni Sapkota to deal with two chief whips from the same party, as the House continues to recognise just one Nepal Communist Party. It is also likely that Sapkota may not invite Bhattarai, as the House is yet to recognise him as the Nepal Communist Party chief whip.
“Ours is a situation where a divorce case has been filed and the court is yet to pass its judgment,” said Rekha Sharma, a Nepal Communist Party lawmaker who is currently with the Dahal-Nepal faction. “We will also discuss the party’s seating arrangements for the first meeting of Parliament from our Central Committee meeting and the Parliamentary Party.”
The Dahal-Nepal faction on Monday held its secretariat meeting to “devise” its future strategy. The meeting decided to call a meeting of its Central Committee on Wednesday.
According to Sharma, things would have become clearer had the Election Commission decided on the party legitimacy dispute.
Though the Dahal-Nepal faction had filed an application at the Election Commission asking it to recognise it as the legitimate Nepal Communist Party, the poll body said on January 24 that it continues to recognise the Nepal Communist Party as the legitimate one which was registered with it in May 2018. The poll body also said that it recognised only Oli and Dahal as party chairs.
Yogi, the secretary of the House of Representatives, said Parliament recognises only those parties which are authenticated by the Election Commission.
“Unless we receive a letter from the Election Commission authenticating the party split, we can’t even manage separate seats for the two factions,” Yogi told the Post.
Yogi did not rule out a possible confrontation.
But days before the House meeting commences, the Supreme Court on Thursday is scheduled to pass a verdict on a case filed by Rishiram Kattel, who had in 2018 challenged the Election Commission decision to award Nepal Communist Party name to Oli and Dahal.
After merging their CPN-UML and Maoist Centre, Oli and Dahal sought to register their party as Nepal Communist Party. But it had already been registered, since 2013, in the name of Kattel. Oli and Dahal had then registered their party as Nepal Communist Party (NCP)–with NCP within brackets.
If the Supreme Court decides in Kattel’s favour, the situation could take a drastic turn, but exactly what is difficult to tell. The most probable conjecture is that the Oli-Dahal Nepal Communist Party could go back to the pre-merger state–the CPN (UML) and the CPN (Maoist Centre).
The Dahal-Nepal faction, however, has been claiming that the Nepal Communist Party belongs to them, along with the sun election symbol and the flag.
Addressing a unity gathering of the Federation of Professionals on Monday in Kathmandu, Dahal claimed his faction has already got the legitimacy as Nepal Communist Party from the Election Commission as well as the election symbol of the sun and they were only waiting for the official decision.
Observers and experts have said the division in the ruling Nepal Communist Party may cause chaos and disorder in the House when its meeting commences and much will depend on how the Speaker demonstrates his acumen.
Speaker Sapkota, a former Maoist leader, was elected to the post after a weeks-long tussle between Oli and Dahal. Despite holding a no-partisan post, Sapkota’s closeness with Dahal was in full public view when he publicly opposed Oli’s House dissolution move.
“With confusion in the Parliamentary Party of the Nepal Communist Party which is yet to split legally, all the accusations and counter-accusations expressed on the streets so far could enter into the House,” said Daman Nath Dhungana, a former Speaker. “So the Speaker should tackle those issues wisely.”
According to Dhungana, to avoid any possible disorderly situation in the House, the Speaker could ask the prime minister to make his position clear—whether he commands majority or not if the no-confidence motion is not tabled
“It would be better if the Speaker could settle the issues through informal meetings among the top leaders of the Nepal Communist Party before the House session begins,” said Dhungana. “He could also ask both the leaders of the conflicting parties to make their position clear in writing before the House proceedings.”