The fate of elections is up in the air, but Oli already seems to be in campaign modeAnalysts say Oli’s gatherings targeting polls need scrutiny given the chances of misuse of state resources as his House dissolution move is still being tested by the court of law.
As if he is out on the hustings.
Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s House dissolution decision is at the Supreme Court which is testing the constitutionality of the move. After dissolving the House on December 20, Oli called snap polls for April 30 and May 10. Elections will happen only if the court endorses his decision. And a decision is not unlikely anytime soon, as the court is conducting a hearing on around a dozen writ petitions and there are over 300 lawyers pleading against and for the move.
But Oli seems to be in an election mode already.
Over the last month, the Oli-led Nepal Communist Party—the other faction of the Nepal Communist Party is led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Madhav Kumar Nepal—has organised dozens of programmes and functions, which look like no less than election hustings.
Now the Oli faction is preparing for a show of strength in the Capital in the first week of February.
On January 22, exactly a month after the Nepal Communist Party split politically, Oli announced his faction’s Capital-centric mass gathering on February 5.
“We will show how a mass gathering is organised and how to mobilise the masses,” said Oli, ridiculing a recent mass gathering organised by the Dahal-Nepal faction in protest of the House dissolution move. “Those who are elated at seeing a few thousand people on the streets of Kathmandu will see our strength [soon].”
Observers say Oli has turned politics into a farce, as he is making an all-out effort to show the strength of his faction on the streets after dissolving a legitimate body of elected representatives, where he commanded nearly two-thirds majority.
“The gatherings lately by Oli are an attempt to push his faction as a brand,” said Bhoj Raj Pokhrel, a former chief election commissioner who is credited for pulling the 2008 Constituent Assembly elections successfully. “The problem is he is using state resources and power to do so.”
Pokhrel often calls election a game, in which political parties are the players. While the players are allowed to prepare themselves for the political game, there needs to be a level-playing field, according to Pokhrel.
Since Oli is in power and he and his loyalists have access to resources, there are concerns that they could misuse them to get an edge over their opponents, if the way is cleared by the court for elections.
According to Pokhrel, Oli, or his government for that matter, must not forget that before the poll body imposes a code of conduct, there is a moral code that everyone must abide by. “But Oli does not seem to have paid attention to that,” said Pokhrel.
Even though the House dissolution is being heard by the court, Oli has been repeatedly saying that his decision was a political move, hence it does not need a judicial review. On occasions, Oli has even said that there are no constitutional provisions for reviving the House in contrast to what constitutional experts and civil society members are claiming, saying the constitution actually does not have any provision that allows a majority prime minister to dissolve the House.
Taking a dig at his opponents and making fun of his critics has become the hallmark of Oli of late and on one recent occasion, he went on to pass disparaging remarks against the ongoing hearing, calling it a drama, and legal professionals who are arguing against his House dissolution move.
Responding to two contempt of court cases, the Supreme Court has summoned Oli to appear before the court with his clarification.
Political analysts say Oli is not naive not to understand that there’s still uncertainty over the elections, but since he is vindictive by nature, he has been holding a series of gatherings to counter the Dahal-Nepal faction.
Uddab Pyakurel, who teaches political sociology at Kathmandu University, said Oli’s focus is now on street shows, particularly because he wants to show his faction’s strength to the Dahal-Nepal faction.
“Despite making claims that he has a huge support, Oli knows that winning seats equal to what his party had won in the past elections is a Herculean task,” said Pyakurel. “Therefore, he is making maximum effort to brand his party.”
In the 2017 elections, Oli’s CPN-UML and Dahal’s CPN (Maoist Centre) had forged an alliance. The combined number of seats they won stood at a mammoth 174 in the 275-strong lower house.
But with the division in the Nepal Communist Party, Oli has not only lost the support of the Maoist faction, many former UML leaders, including the senior ones like Madhav Kumar Nepal and Jhala Nath Khanal, too have deserted him. Since both Nepal and Khanal enjoyed a significant clout in the former UML party, leaders loyal to them too have deserted Oli.
Meanwhile, Oli has managed to get some former Maoist leaders like Ram Bahadur Thapa, Top Bahadur Rayamajhi, Mani Thapa, Prabhu Sah and Gauri Shankar Chaudhary into his fold. This, observers say, may have made Oli more confident about his political moves.
Pyakurel said the mass gatherings called by Oli may have been seeing people in hordes, but that could be also because he is currently in power.
“He should understand the fact that he can count heads at his mass gatherings but it will be wrong to count them as his votes,” said Pyakurel. “Even king Gyanedra once was very confident and under a wrong impression that the whole country was behind him.”
While mass gatherings are one of the best ways for political parties to make their case for elections, many say what is also important is when such events should be organised.
Oli was elected prime minister in February 2018 with a mandate to govern for the full five-year term. It was welcomed by the people of Nepal which had seen a never-ending political instability, with frequent changes of government—every nine months on an average over two and a half decades or so.
Oli returned to power on his nationalistic as well as “stability for prosperity” planks.
While his nationalistic postures are on the wane, Oli himself has raised the spectre of instability by dissolving the House, as in both cases—if the House is restored or the country goes to the polls, the country is most likely to have a hung parliament which cannot ensure a government that can govern for the full five-year term.
Observers say politicians have their own ways of gauging the support they have from the people, especially when they are heading for the polls, but what is important is people in power must not misuse state resources to win votes.
“And Oli has been crossing his limits of late, and there are examples galore,” Pyakurel told the Post. “Showing power from the streets after unconstitutionally dissolving the House is just yet another example of how he has overstepped the constitutional limits.”
In the letter recommending that the President dissolve the House, Oli said the step was necessary because the country needed a two-thirds majority government. But it is not clear what makes Oli so confident that the snap polls would hand him a two-thirds majority, especially when his Nepal Communist Party is cleaved in two.
Experts say Oli is making every attempt to strengthen his position while in power because in case the Supreme Court rejects his move, he will lack resources for mass mobilisation.
Krishna Pokharel, a professor of political science at Tribhuvan University, says no party in Nepal’s political history has fared better after a split and Oli knows the fact very well.
“This is the reason he is trying to play Hindu card by visiting Pashupatinath and trying to woo the Madhesi people through what they called a dhoti rally,” Pokharel told the Post.
A youth wing under the Oli-led party held a dhoti rally in the Capital on January 9, bringing people from the Madhes to march on Kathmandu streets. Analysts had told the Post then that Oli’s attempt to woo the people from the Madhes was nothing but a farce.
In what came as a surprise for many, Oli on Monday visited the Pashupatinath temple and offered a special puja for more than an hour, which analysts say was a bid to woo pro-Hindu, pro-monarch constituencies.
Observers say Oli knows he is on the backfoot as his chances are slowly slipping through his fingers.
“Even Oli, who is the only person talking about the elections, knows the polls are not possible in April and May,” said Pokhrel. “He should stop spoiling state resources in strengthening his faction.”
Some say Oli, who is under a wrong impression as if he is the state, is pulling out all the stops to check his opponents and he is in a bid to show how strong force he has behind his back.
“Oli and his people know chances of elections in April and May are slim. So these mass gatherings are for their cadres,” Shyam Shrestha, a political commentator who has followed Nepal’s leftist politics closely, told the Post. “As he is in power and has access to resources, it is comparatively easier for him to mobilise the masses than others.”