Why KP Sharma Oli is behaving as though he is the stateEver since Oli dissolved the House, all his statements have revolved around ‘I, me and myself’, as he has shown utter disregard for the checks and balances.
Louis XIV who ruled France with absolutism expressed the spirit of power he wielded with the phrase “L’État, c’est moi,” or “I am the state.” Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, who has been prime minister for about three years now, seems to be guided by roughly the same idea.
Ever since assuming office in February 2018, Oli has shown utter disregard for the people’s fundamental rights, the media, the system, the rule of law, the legislature and the constitution. After dissolving the very House of Representatives that elected him to the post of prime minister, Oli of late has been making statements which revolve around “I, me and myself”.
Some of his remarks directly insinuate that the Supreme Court would decide—the House dissolution move is being heard by the five-member Constitutional Bench—in his favour and uphold his decision.
“No doubt Oli is so drunk on power that he is behaving as if he is the state,” said Chadra Dev Bhatta, who writes political commentaries for the Post’s sister paper Kantipur. “His actions and statements show that every individual in the country is behind him and he can do anything.”
Oli’s authoritarian streaks were on display immediately after he became the prime minister, as he tried to bar people from holding protests at Maitighar. Then he brought various government agencies under the Prime Minister’s Office in a bid to centralise power in him. Oli tried to introduce a raft of bills aimed at curtailing civil liberties–individual freedom, freedom of expression and media freedom. His contempt for the media and civil society has never been a secret.
After being cornered in the Nepal Communist Party where his opponents were demanding his resignation, Oli on July 2 last year suddenly prorogued the House in a bid to preempt any possible no confidence motion against him.
Five and a half months later, Oli took a drastic step of dissolving the House on December 20. Constitutional experts say the provisions in the constitution do not allow Oli, as a majority prime minister, to do so.
Observers say Oli has no knowledge of—or never gave two hoots about—the principle of separation of powers and the checks and balances enshrined in the constitution. Ever since dissolving the House, he has been responding to his critics as if he were judge, jury and executioner.
The executive, the legislature and the judiciary are the three branches of the state in a democracy and the powers of each of the organs are divided and balanced so as to maintain the checks and balances.
There is a tendency among executive heads to forget that a government is just an entity of the state, according to Meena Baidhya Malla, a former professor at the Department of Political Science at Tribhuvan University.
“Territory, population, government and sovereignty constitute a state,” Malla told the Post. “The government is just an organ of the state which works for the people and Oli was elected as a custodian to work on behalf of the people.”
According to Malla, the constitution has clearly ensured the principle of the separation of powers and all elected representatives, including the prime minister, must function as prescribed by the law of the land.
In principle, a government is made by the people of the state. It, however, is put in place only by a portion of the population through the elected representatives.
So while Oli leads a government that is elected by some people, his duty is to act for the entire population. But in no way can he have the impression that the entire population rallies behind him and he cannot blur the line between the government he leads and the state, say observers.
One of the basic differences between the government and state is a government is temporary, it comes and goes, but the state is permanent.
Pushpa Raj Adhikari, a professor of Political Science at Tribhuvan University, said the problem started the very day when Oli was appointed prime minister, as he had taken the oath as the executive without being sworn in as a member of the House of Representatives.
“The government is just an agency of the state which needs to work as prescribed by the statute,” said Adhikari. “In principle, Oli’s move is unconstitutional. However, when he says it’s a political move, he isn’t wrong because the constitution that stands on the wrong foundation gives him a room for the claim.”
In the letter to the President recommending the dissolution of the House, Oli has said that he was forced to take the step because he was not allowed to work properly by his opponents in the party, that he wanted a two-thirds majority so he could accomplish works without any hindrance and that a two-thirds majority government was required to amend the constitution.
There is no clarity as to what makes Oli assume that the elections, which he has declared for April 30 and May 10, will hand him a two-thirds majority.
Despite the House dissolution case being heard by the Supreme Court, Oli has been repeating that it was a political move, hence it does not warrant any judicial review. He has been even making remarks confidently that the Supreme Court won’t restore the House, which many say amounts to influencing the justices hearing the case.
“There’s a saying that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” said Adhikari. “But blame the flaws in the constitution for the current mess and uncertainty than Oli.”
After the restoration of democracy in 1990, Nepal wrote a new constitution, aiming to escape from absolutism. The monarch was brought under the constitution. Eighteen years later, Nepal made a major leap forward, as it abolished the centuries-old monarchy. In 2015, the country promulgated yet another constitution, which places sovereignty in the people of Nepal in order to fulfil the aspirations of sustainable peace, good governance, development and prosperity through the federal democratic republican system of governance.
All these exercises were made to rid the country of absolutism, but strangely, observers say, Oli has been displaying an uncanny penchant for absolutism.
As the head of the government, Oli’s allegiance should have been to the constitution, but he has torn the same constitution apart, according to them.
Adhikari, however, says Oli’s move has just exposed the multiple flaws the current constitution has.
“How can we expect organs of the state to function effectively when there is a problem with the constitution itself,” said Adhikari. “The recent political move by Oli has proved that the Constitution of Nepal needs to be rewritten.”