President’s all-party meeting comes into question over intentOli proposing House dissolution and fresh elections makes the event look like Sheetal Niwas dancing to Baluwatar’s tune, leaders attending the meeting and analysts say.
President Bidya Devi Bhandari on Tuesday defended her move of endorsing the KP Sharma Oli government’s House dissolution recommendation, while Prime Minister Oli said that the decision was right and that a similar move should be made again.
At an all-party meeting called by President Bhandari to “discuss” contemporary politics, some leaders had questioned the promptitude Sheetal Niwas had demonstrated on December 20 to endorse the Oli government’s House dissolution move.
President Bhandari had invited leaders of political parties represented in Parliament and former prime ministers.
According to Janata Samajbadi Party chair Upendra Yadav, who was present in the meeting, Oli said that he dissolved the House earlier in December after it could not deliver.
“The Supreme Court failed to understand the intent behind dissolving the House,” Yadav quoted Oli as saying in the meeting. “The House now also is failing to deliver so let’s dissolve it and go for fresh elections.”
Oli proposed that a solution to the current political crisis should be sought through elections, according to Yadav.
When the Oli administration was instituted in February 2018 after the people voted for the left alliance of the CPN-UML and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre), there were hopes that it would govern for the full five-year term, thereby ushering in political instability.
Oli’s UML and the Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s Maoist Centre in May 2018 had merged to become the Nepal Communist Party (NCP).
However, an internal power struggle started brewing in the Nepal Communist Party (NCP).
And in an unprecedented move, Oli on December 20 dissolved the House, throwing the country into uncertainties. To defend his move, Oli, however, had claimed that he was forced to do so because his opponents—Dahal and Madhav Kumar Nepal—did not allow him to work.
The Supreme Court on February 23 overturned the House dissolution decision. But the top court on March 7, the day the first meeting of the House was called after its reinstatement, passed yet another judgment, scrapping the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) and reviving the UML and the Maoist Centre, thereby adding to the confusion.
Even though it appears that Oli might continue to remain in power, at least for now, his position is gradually becoming untenable as the Nepali Congress, Maoist Centre and Janata Samajbadi Party can form an alliance and pull the rug from under his feet. Even though Madhav Nepal has returned to the UML fold, his group has upped the ante against Oli.
President Bhandari’s meeting with political leaders now, at a time when Oli is staring at a crisis, has received a fair share of criticism.
Analysts say there’s nothing wrong with the meeting per se, but the timing makes one wonder “why now” and whether Sheetal Niwas organised it in a choreographed manner—in close consultations with Oli.
“Had she organised a similar kind of meeting with political parties in the past when there was a political crisis, today’s meeting would have been taken as usual,” said Rajendra Dahal, who served as a press adviser to former President Ram Baran Yadav. “She could have invited political party leaders when Oli had recommended House dissolution and also after the Supreme Court reinstated the House.”
President Bhandari’s role has come into question in the past also and Sheetal Niwas has received widespread criticism for acting as Baluwatar’s rubber stamp.
Observers had told the Post back in November that the Office of the President was failing to maintain its dignity and it was playing along with the executive to bring disgrace upon itself.
Bhandari has come to Oli’s rescue every time the latter was in a crisis in the then Nepal Communist Party (NCP)—at times even directly interfering in the party’s internal matters.
Before her election as the President in October, 2015, Bhandari was vice-chair of the CPN-UML.
“The President’s all-party meeting has come at a time when Oli is in a crisis,” Dahal told the Post. “And now I am sensing a political crisis is deepening in the country.”
Despite the Supreme Court overturning his House dissolution move, Oli has refused to step down on moral grounds.
The March 7 court order has now created four major parties in the House, with three others having one seat each. There is one independent lawmaker.
Oli was elected prime minister in February 2018 with the support of the Maoist Centre.
The moment the Maoist Centre withdraws its support, Oli will be on a shaky ground.
Tuesday’s meeting, many say, looked like a platform where both Bhandari and Oli wanted to justify their past moves and seek, in unison, yet another House dissolution and fresh elections in the name of giving the current political crisis a way out.
Chitra Bahadur KC, chair of Janamorcha Nepal, told the Post that he, along with some other leaders, questioned the President’s role.
“We were of the view that the President and the prime minister were to blame for the current mess,” KC told the Post over the phone after the meeting.
Multiple leaders, who attended the meeting, the Post spoke to said the President tried to defend her move of endorsing the government recommendation, saying she followed the constitution.
“I adhered to the letter and spirit of the constitution [while endorsing the House dissolution] and have not violated the constitution in the capacity of the Head of State. I was bound to agree with the executive’s recommendation,” a leader quoted the President as saying. “The decision was not mine. I have always protected the constitution, so it must not be understood otherwise.”
But some leaders were unconvinced.
According to leaders, Tuesday's meeting looked like a bid by the President to seek support to Oli’s agenda of dissolving the House again and go for fresh elections.
“It became apparent that the President was in favour of Oli’s ideas and the intention of the meeting was to convince the political actors on Oli’s agenda,” said another leader present in the meeting. “After some leaders and former prime ministers said that the Office of the President was not the right place to discuss political matters, the meeting ended.”
An official at Sheetal Niwas said President Bhandari also apprised the leaders of her upcoming visit to Bangladesh.
President Bhandari will be visiting Dhaka on March 22-23 to attend the birth centenary celebrations of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who is called the father of Bangladeshi nation.
According to a statement issued by Sheetal Niwas, the President during Tuesday’s meeting stressed effective implementation of the constitution and urged the leaders to forge consensus and maintain unity.
Prime Minister Oli and 18 other leaders of various parties and some former prime ministers were present in the meeting.
UML leaders Madhav Kumar Nepal and Jhala Nath Khanal as well as Janata Samajbadi Party’s federal council chair Baburam Bhattarai–all former prime ministers–did not attend the meeting.
Analysts say the Head of State, as the protector of the constitution and the guardian of the nation, should use an all-party meeting as a tool to find a consensus among the major political actors in the larger interest of the country rather than to protect a particular political party, group or a certain leader.
“Oli is trying to use every trick in the book to cling on to power and this meeting seems to be part of that game,” said Hari Roka, a political economist who closely follows political affairs. “[The President] must have called this meeting to rescue Oli but it does not look like it’s going to work.”
According to Roka, it has dawned upon Oli by now that odds are stacked against him and his long-time supporters like Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba and leaders from his own UML including Nepal are not going to side with him any more.
“It’s no secret that the President in the past made attempts to rescue Oli whenever he was in a crisis,” Roka told the Post. “When the country was indeed going to face a crisis due to Oli’s House dissolution, she did not bother to consult political leaders even once.”