Oli throws caution to the wind as he addresses a mass gatheringOnce again ignoring the fact that his December 20 move is sub judice in court, Oli says the House cannot be restored and urges all to prepare for elections.
After dissolving the House of Representatives on December 20, KP Sharma Oli, who is now reduced to the status of caretaker prime minister, has thrown the country into a political chaos and uncertainty.
His House dissolution move immediately led to a split in his Nepal Communist Party, with the other faction led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Madhav Kumar Nepal declaring a war on him. Both the factions of the party have been engaged in a blame game—and on most occasions, Oli has turned the conversation nasty and ugly.
Since December 20, Oli at a series of programmes has resorted to vituperation and insults while justifying his House dissolution move.
Amid all this, Oli seems to have completely forgotten the fact that as the executive he still has a job to do—for the people and the country. In Oli’s Nepal, governance had never been a priority and since he fell out with his rivals in his party, governance has totally taken a back seat.
On Friday, Oli, who has barely stepped out of Baluwatar in the last 10 months given the pandemic and his health condition, threw caution to the winds. He flew to Dhangadhi, a town in the far west, to address a mass gathering as if he was on an election campaign.
While addressing the programme, Oli said the scheduled elections will happen and there is no chance of revival of the House.
“I urge all those who are opposing the House dissolution to read the constitution,” said Oli. “Some people did not allow me to work. I could not work for the nation. So I decided to go for a fresh mandate.”
Observers say Oli seems to have completely lost the plot and is making illogical statements, while ignoring his primary responsibility.
“The prime minister should focus on his primary duty—that is governance. And he is not doing that,” said Krishna Pokhrel, a professor of political science. “What he is doing is address a function believed to have been attended by his followers. This is absolutely uncalled for.”
After dissolving the House, Oli has declared snap polls for April 30 and May 10.
His House dissolution move has been described by constitutional experts as extra-constitutional, as the constitution does not allow a majority prime minister to dissolve the House. But even if the constitution allowed it, as per parliamentary practices, he should have resigned—only to be designated to oversee elections as a caretaker prime minister. He has not resigned. On top of that, Oli’s House dissolution move has been contested in the court of law. Until the court passes a final verdict, it’s unclear if the country has headed for the polls. If the court overturns Oli’s decision and restores the House, there will be no elections on the declared dates.
“It’s strange that the prime minister has turned his focus to elections when the matter is sub judice in the Supreme Court,” said Pokhrel.
On Friday evening, four former Supreme Court justices said Oli’s move of dissolving the House is unconstitutional.
Issuing a statement, former chief justices Min Bahadur Rayamajhi, Anup Raj Sharma, Kalyan Shrestha and Sushila Karki said that the Articles that have been cited [by the Oli government] for the dissolution of the House don’t allow the prime minister to do so.
The Office of the President on December 20 said that the House “has been dissolved pursuant to Articles 76 (1) and 76 (7) and 85 of the constitution.
“Article 76 of Nepal’s constitution does not have any provision for dissolving the House unless for the purpose of forming a Council of Ministers,” said the justices. “But the House of Representatives is found to have been dissolved citing the same Article.”
The Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court is hearing as many as 13 writs against House dissolution.
Observers say elections on the dates declared by the Oli government are possible only if the court approves the decision to dissolve the House. And with the decision pending, Oli should refrain from organising and addressing election-like gatherings, according to them.
Oli has addressed at least three gatherings in Kathmandu after the Nepal Communist Party split following the December 20 House dissolution. In all those programmes, he has made claims that the House cannot be restored and urged all supporters to prepare for elections.
Experts on constitutional affairs last week told the Post that Oli’s such claims were objectionable as he was speaking on a matter that is sub judice in court despite him being a party to the case.
Oli’s close confidante Subas Nembang has so far not spoken a word on Oli’s move, saying that the case is sub judice and that the constitution “does not allow” him to speak on a matter being dealt with by the court.
Nembang lately has received widespread criticism for failing to speak up on Oli’s House dissolution move, as he is the one who in 2019 had made public statements that the present constitution does not allow a prime minister to dissolve the House. As a leader who chaired the Constituent Assembly twice, Nembang, who is a lawyer also, is known as a person with “great understanding” of the constitution.
Going by Nembang’s argument that the constitution does not allow him to speak on a matter under the court’s consideration, that should, however, be applicable to Oli as well.
Article 105 under the title “Restriction on discussion” states that “no discussion shall be held in either House of the federal parliament on any matters that may cause adverse effect on the dispensation of justice on any cases which are sub judice in any courts of Nepal and on any judicial acts done by judges in the course of performance of their duties.”
Constitutional experts have accused Oli of trying to influence the court by repeatedly saying from different platforms that the House cannot be resorted and that all should prepare for elections.
Barsha Man Pun, who was a minister in the Oli Cabinet until December 20, said it’s strange that Oli who was never interested to attend party meetings is now suddenly so active that he has been addressing gatherings one after another.
Last time Oli went out of Kathmandu was on November 11 when he visited Sankhuwasabha. After inspecting some project sites, Oli addressed a mass gathering there as well, even though the local administration had issued a prohibitory order and asked all not to hold mass gatherings.
“He was not even going to his office in Singha Durbar,” said Pun, who is currently with the Nepal Communist Party (Dahal-Nepal faction), insinuating that Oli never had any interest in governance.
Oli held most of his Cabinet meetings over the past year from Baluwatar. The reasons given were his health condition and the Covid-19 pandemic.
Oli underwent his second kidney transplant on March 4 last year.
His government has also faced massive criticism for making a spectacular bungling in handling of the pandemic.
The pandemic threat is not over yet in the country.
As of Friday, the number of Covid-19 cases in the country stood at 264,159, with 554 new infections reported over the last 24 hours. Covid-19 has claimed 1,909 lives so far, with six new deaths in the past 24 hours.
Surya Thapa, Oli’s press adviser, however, said the prime minister has “followed all the safety protocols” while attending all the meetings and gatherings.
“First there is no lockdown. Second, cases of Covid-19 have drastically come down,” Thapa told the Post. “And the prime minister has maintained the prescribed social distancing and followed the required Covid-19 protocols.”
Thapa defended Oli on the governance front saying that the deputy prime minister is there to look after the prime minister’s office.
Thapa, however, could not provide any answer to how Oli had put thousands of people who attended Friday’s programme at the risk of contracting the virus.
Doctors say Oli is among the people in the high risk group because of his age and the second kidney transplantation and negligence could be costly.
"Apart from the risk of coronavirus infection, he is also at risk of other infections," Dr Sher Bahadur Pun, chief of Clinical Research Unit at Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Diseases Hospital, told the Post. "Taking part in assemblies and gatherings is too risky in the time of the pandemic. Elderly people and others who have pre-existing conditions must take precautions."