Repealing the ordinances might quell dissent but Oli still faces moral questionsOli needs to answer for a series of political events, including an alleged kidnapping, triggered by the two controversial ordinances, say leaders and analysts.
Five days after issuing two ordinances to a mass outcry, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, on Friday, backtracked and withdrew both the ordinances.
Although the withdrawal could somewhat quell the dissent that had arisen from across the political spectrum, including his own party, leaders and analysts say that the repeal alone doesn't absolve Oli of his moral failings.
The Oli Cabinet on Friday decided to recommend that both the ordinances—one related to political parties and the other to the Constitutional Council—be repealed. President Bidya Devi Bhandari accordingly repealed both the ordinances, in much the same manner that she had approved them—without delay and consultation.
“Though the government has decided to withdraw both the ordinances, the prime minister still needs to answer some moral questions,” said Jhala Nath Khanal, a senior ruling party leader and former prime minister. “The move to issue ordinances triggered a series of events that also include allegations that a lawmaker was kidnapped. Who’s answerable?”
The ordinance on the Political Party Act sought to ease party split and registration of a new party, with the new amendment allowing 40 percent of central committee or Parliamentary Party members to split a party.
Based on the new provision, a section of leaders from the Samajbadi Party had sought to split the party. But the Samajbadi leadership’s sudden decision to merge with the Rastriya Janata Party blocked that plan.
Surendra Yadav, a lawmaker from the Samajbadi Party Nepal, has alleged that he was forcefully brought to Kathmandu from Janakpur at Oli's behest, leading to allegations of kidnapping.
“There are reports that a lawmaker was kidnapped and if that’s true, this incident was triggered by the decision to issue the ordinance,” Khanal of the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) told the Post. “All these incidents have hurt the party and damaged the party’s reputation. The prime minister is not above the party. He must answer the questions that are being raised.”
The primary opposition Nepali Congress too has said that the withdrawal of the ordinance does not mean “crime prompted by the ordinance can be absolved”.
Issuing a statement, the Congress party has demanded an investigation into Yadav’s allegations and action against the guilty.
Observers, however, say how things unfolded over the past five days should not be analysed by viewing them in isolation as mere events.
According to experts on constitutional affairs, the two ordinances that Oli tried to push through directly challenged the constitution and the spirit of parliamentary democracy.
Bipin Adhikari, a former dean at the Kathmandu University School of Law, told the Post on Thursday that both ordinances were brought with mala fide intentions, with Oli aiming to consolidate more power.
“The ordinance on the Constitutional Council contradicted the constitution,” said Adhikari, who had warned that the Supreme Court could nullify the ordinance if it wasn't withdrawn.
The 2015 constitution provisions six members for the Constitutional Council, to be headed by the prime minister, and that all decisions be made unanimously.
The Chief Justice, Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the House, the chair of the National Assembly, and the leader of the primary opposition are members of the council.
Oli’s amendment would have removed the unanimity provision, allowing three members to take decisions by a majority vote. The Constitutional Council makes appointments to constitutional bodies like the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority and the National Human Rights Council, along with ambassadorial appointments.
According to ruling party insiders, Oli had told NCP members that the amendment was required because of the intransigence of the leader of the opposition [Sher Bahadur Deuba], leading to vacancies in several constitutional bodies.
But analysts say that Oli was aiming to appoint officials of his own choosing to a few powerful constitutional bodies, including the corruption watchdog, in order to strengthen his own power.
According to Shyam Shrestha, a political analyst who has followed Nepal’s leftist politics for decades, the recent events are a major setback for the government, the ruling party and Oli himself.
“The government may have been facing criticism for its poor handling of the pandemic but it could have made up with a quick response,” said Shrestha. “But the recent events have raised moral questions. It will be difficult for Oli to regain his political capital.”
According to Shrestha, it won’t be a surprise if calls for Oli’s resignation intensify in the coming days.
Oli had also come under increasing pressure from his own party members over the ordinances.
During Thursday’s Secretariat meeting, a majority of Secretariat members, including the other party chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal, had requested that Oli withdraw the ordinances, according to party leaders.
Six of the nine members in the Secretariat even held a late Thursday meeting in Bhaisepati at party vice-chair Bamdev Gautam’s residence to discuss recent developments and demand a meeting of the Standing Committee, according to a Secretariat member who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Dahal, Khanal, senior leader Madhav Kumar Nepal, General Secretary Bishnu Poudel, and party spokesperson Narayan Kaji Shrestha were all present at the meeting.
Many in the ruling party see Poudel’s presence in Bhaisepati as a major development in intra-party dynamics.
In the Secretariat, Poudel and Ishwar Pokhrel, who is also deputy prime minister and defence minister, had sided with Oli so far, with five others in the Dahal camp.
“We decided to demand a Standing Committee meeting to discuss all contemporary issues and controversies surrounding the government and the party,” Khanal told the Post.
Party members had called for a Standing Committee meeting for Saturday, but Oli held a Cabinet meeting on Friday and decided to repeal the ordinances.
According to one leader, Oli felt weakened, as a majority of Secretariat members were against the ordinances.
“If Oli fails to convince the Standing Committee, his stay in power could become untenable,” said Haribol Gajurel, a standing committee member. “Members will question Oli’s intentions.”
Insiders say that although Oli eventually capitulated to pressure, he has refused to acknowledge that the ordinances were a mistake. Oli has maintained that he introduced the ordinances for the larger good of the people and the country.
“But the prime minister said that they [the ordinances] had to be repealed to respect the people’s and the party’s voices,” said a minister.
Binod Ghimire and Tika R Pradhan contributed reporting.