Politics and principlesWhen a prime minister loses support of Parliament that elected him, he should quit the office immediately
The legislative assembly is most likely to pass the no-confidence motion tabled against the Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli-led coalition government, despite his desperate manoeuvrings to avert it. The succeeding government will be the 22nd one in the country after the restoration of democracy 26 years ago—the statistic speaks volumes for itself.
People are sick and tired with constant change in coalitions ensued or preceded by inter- or intra-party fights, patch-ups and horse-trading and political blackmails. Subsequent political instability has weakened the state, invited foreign intervention, and stagnated nation’s economic development. It has augmented lawlessness, corruption, crimes and criminalisation of politics. It has further deteriorated the abilities of already politicised and inefficient civil and security services. Yet the political class does not realise its mistakes, let alone learn from them. From those who sacrificed a great deal for the cause of democracy and those who launched bloody insurgencies like “people’s war” or “Jhapa rebellion” in the name of a “Communist revolution” to those who are now agitating for the cause of so-called identity, none of the political leaders or parties have been concerned about the people.
The coalitions are alliances in which parties agree on a definite mode of power-sharing. In Nepal, any offer of a better deal in the next government to any junior partner of a ruling coalition by opposition parties often results in the breaking of an alliance, provided the chances of forming a new government is high. Sometimes, rival factions within the same party help topple, albeit covertly, the governments led by their own party leader in collusion with the parties in opposition. This time too, the possibility that such an intrigue took place is pretty high. Madhab Nepal and Jhalanath Khanal—both senior-most leaders of the CPN-UML—have kept mum over the ongoing events. Moreover, Bamdev Gautam—another senior UML leader—has publicly stated that after presenting the annual budget, Oli should have handed over the premiership to Prachanda as per their so-called ‘gentleman agreement’.
Wise people, selfish leaders
It is not that the people of the country have not voted for a stable government. Twice after the restoration of democracy in 1990, the voters gave the Nepali Congress (NC) a comfortable majority. But owing to their in-house wrangling, both the time the NC government fell pre-maturely. Ever since, an era of hung parliaments has dawned upon this country. The proportional representation (PR) system of elections too, implemented since 2007, has been instrumental in producing hung parliaments. In a bid to make the legislative more inclusive, our naïve leaders could not foresee what a mess the arrangement would create. We are, therefore, cursed to live for a long time to come with this menace of hung parliaments, followed by frequent changes of coalition governments. Meanwhile, we should not give up our efforts to reform and rectify the shortcomings, both in our structures (PR system) and attitudes. Failure to do so will make our nation a failed state.
Now let us come to the present crisis. Prachanda form the Maoist Centre and Sher Bahadur Deuba from the NC—protagonists of the no-confidence motion—are certainly not angels. Both are as power hungry as any other leaders. But Prime Minister Oli is not a hero either, nor a victim, as portrayed by his zealots, who are provoking him to cling to power even if the no-confidence motion is passed. Citing a constitutional lacuna, they are misguiding him that he cannot be unseated even if he is defeated in the motion. Their contention is that a new government can only be formed either if the constitution is amended accordingly, or if the President uses her discretionary and special power under article 305 to pave the way for a new government, or if a ‘political agreement’ is reached between the opposition and the ruling alliance. But this argument is not only unmerited but also ill-intended to remain in power as long as possible.
Oli’s associates, of course upon his orders, have also been trying to obstruct the House proceedings on the motion. Their demand is that the Speaker should first give priority to the budget related bills. However, it is shameful on the part of the treasury bench to obstruct the proceedings of the House, especially when the agenda is none other than a no-trust motion against their government. Their demand is aimed at buying time to prolong their days in the office and meanwhile, if possible, to thwart the no-trust motion. Some of his cronies are also saying that Oli should dissolve the House and order snap polls. They forget that the full bench of the Supreme Court has, in its landmark 1995 verdict, ruled that a prime minister who is facing a no-confidence motion in the House has no right to order the dissolution of the same House. Oli, whose services may always be needed by the nation, should not be carried away by such incitements. Failure to do so will cause a backlash.
Conversely, several constitutional experts, of course not excluding the ones affiliated to the NC and the Maoists, have opined that there is no constitutional hurdle in the formation of a new government under article 298. It is indeed a matter of pity that even the experts are divided along partisan lines on such an issue of national importance. However, if we minutely study and analyse what the UML affiliated constitutional experts have been saying, formation of a new government is possible, as they have not pleaded that the statute bars the formation of a new government. All they have said is ‘the constitution is silent on the provision of a new government’. And obviously, to remain silent and to prohibit are two different legal terms.
Constitutional loopholes notwithstanding, when a prime minister loses support of Parliament that elected him, he should follow the time-honoured and universal tradition of quitting the office immediately. Refusing to do so, under any pretext, is undemocratic and unethical. He and his party need not worry about the legitimacy of the next government or the modus operandi of its formation; the sovereign House will take care of that. It is also customary that when a no-confidence motion is passed, the person who has tabled the motion is automatically assumed as the next head of the government unless, of course, the House decides otherwise. That is also the principle of natural justice. Under the present circumstances, we need logical conclusions, not negative interpretations of statutes that lead to aggravation of problems.
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org