Oli agrees to revoke ordinance but his actions have come into questionObservers say the prime minister is making a mockery of the system by issuing ordinances and withdrawing them and losing legitimacy to govern.
A high drama at Baluwatar seems to have come to an end just as it had started. Two chairs of the Nepal Communist Party until Tuesday evening were in such a confrontational mode—KP Sharma Oli in action and Pushpa Kamal Dahal in verbose—that it looked like nothing could save them from parting ways. But in a dramatic turn of events, 24 hours later, the two chairmen on Wednesday evening clinched a truce.
Oli, who has been dismissing party meetings as meaningless, attended the Standing Committee, alongside Dahal. The 44-member committee discussed the ordinance the Oli government had issued on Tuesday. Oli agreed to withdraw the ordinance. The committee also decided that the plan to submit a petition to the President demanding a special House session would be put on hold.
“Today’s Standing Committee unanimously decided that the government will withdraw the ordinance,” Naryan Kaji Shrestha, the party spokesperson, told reporters after the meeting. “The committee also decided to halt the plan to demand a special session of the House.”
It was like everything was hunky dory. But too early to say, according to party insiders.
Analysts and experts say the way the drama unfolded in the last 24 hours signals far-reaching implications. By deciding to withdraw the controversial ordinance, the party may have settled one small dispute in the party but the constitutional crisis that Oli as the prime minister invited is dangerous, according to them.
“How Oli has behaved in the last 24 hours has raised a serious moral question on him,” said Hari Roka, a political economist who writes extensively on contemporary political and economic matters. “He does not have the moral credibility to govern now.”
Oli on Tuesday out of the blue bulldozed an ordinance on the Constitutional Council Act (Functions, Duties and Procedures) 2010 to amend at least two clauses so as to hold the meeting and take decisions as per his wish.
Observers and experts on constitutional affairs said his move was tantamount to committing a fraud on the constitution and yet another display of his authoritarian streak. Even the other chair, Dahal, had said that Oli’s action made his totalitarian attitude more apparent.
Oli had introduced a similar ordinance in April as well but was forced to withdraw it after massive criticism.
This time, too, Oli attracted a torrent of censure, not only for issuing an ordinance that contradicted the constitution but also for dragging the Office of the President into controversy and disturbing the balance of power.
The rival faction in the ruling party was irked no end.
The faction led by Dahal, Madhav Kumar Nepal, Bamdev Gautam and Narayan Kaji Shrestha has long been demanding that Oli step down either as prime minister or party chair.
Lately, Oli has come under pressure as he has slid into minority in his own party. Oli’s move of issuing the ordinance, many in the party believe, came out of spite as well as with an intention to appoint his loyalists to some constitutional bodies, including the anti-graft agency, so that he could keep a check on his opponents.
But so furious were his opponents that some leaders collected signatures of as many as 83 lawmakers and marched to Sheetal Niwas to demand a special House session.
As per Article 93 (3) of the constitution that says: If, during the prorogation or recess of session of the House of Representatives, one-fourth of the total number of members write a petition that it is desirable to convene a session or meeting, the President shall specify the date and time of such a session or meeting.
“The House of Representatives shall meet or commence the session at the date and time specified,” says the Article.
The lawmakers, however, could not register the petition at the Office of the President despite waiting for around five hours. Meanwhile, Oli and Dahal, according to leaders, held a one-on-one meeting at Baluwatar just ahead of the Standing Committee meeting.
There was no way the President could have denied the call for a special House session had the petition been registered. Insiders say Oli got alarmed after the initiative to call the House session, as it could have paved the way for the opposing faction to move a no-confidence motion against him, if it so wished.
“It is apparent that Oli was afraid that his opponents in the party could bring a no-confidence motion at the special session,” said Matrika Yadav, a Standing Committee member. “If Oli could garner a majority in the Parliamentary Party, he would have shown his strength long ago.”
Though the Standing Committee meeting was scheduled for 1pm, it could not take place till late evening.
Meanwhile, second- and third-rung leaders from both factions were activated.
Ghanashyam Bhusal, a Standing Committee member, said he along with Shankar Pokhrel and Subas Nembang urged Oli to withdraw the ordinance so as to avoid further confrontation in the party.
“After we convinced him about the consequences, he agreed,” Bhusal told the Post.
But analysts say an issue like ordinance should not be made a weapon by the prime minister to issue threats to his opponents in the party. Such acts by the executive erode its credibility and raise questions about its legitimacy, according to them.
Om Prakash Aryal, an advocate who filed a petition at the Supreme Court on Wednesday challenging the Oli government’s move of issuing the ordinance, said legitimacy is one thing but if the authority fails to uphold moral values, it loses the ground to govern.
“Elections may provide the legitimacy to govern, but those elected should show proper conduct as well,” Aryal told the Post. “Given the way the prime minister has been acting, he has by now lost the public validity; he is lauded by just a small interest group that is benefiting from him.”
According to Aryal, there is a realisation among people now that Oli poses a serious risk to the constitution and the system.
Since assuming office, Oli has made constant attempts to curtail civil liberty, shrink civic space and curb media freedom and freedom of expression. His government’s actions and his own statements go against the spirit of the constitution.
Oli may have managed to achieve a temporary ceasefire in the party but his Tuesday move of introducing the ordinance that attacked the core value defined by the constitution has raised questions over his governance, analysts say.
“Oli lost the legitimacy to govern a long time ago,” said Shyam Shrestha, a political commentator who has followed Nepal’s leftist politics for decades. “He must have quit on moral ground by now, as he faces serious charges from leaders within his own party—of promoting corruption, failing to deliver and even attacking the system.”