It’s time for parties to register for polls but Oli-Dahal’s legitimacy row remainsElection Commission this week decided not to give legitimacy to either faction of Nepal Communist Party. But with elections nearing, it will have to make a choice, experts say.
There are 91 days left for the midterm polls. That is, if the Supreme Court endorses Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s decision to dissolve the House of Representatives.
Meanwhile, as part of its preparations for the polls slated for April 30 and May 10, the Election Commission is preparing to register political parties. But with the Nepal Communist Party cleaved into two, questions over its registration remain unresolved.
Without the political parties being ready, elections cannot take place.
Friday’s attempt of the poll body to find a solution to the stalemate over which of the two factions—one led by Oli and the other by Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Madhav Kumar Nepal—should be considered legitimate came to nought.
The commission had invited the two factions for a meeting to inform them about its plan to call the parties to register for the elections as part of the preparations, but the Dahal-Nepal faction did not even show up.
“We are preparing to issue a notice for registration of political parties,” said Election Commissioner Narendra Dahal. “We plan to issue the notice very soon after consulting the political parties.”
But how the Nepal Communist Party will be registered with the two factions at war of words is a question that needs to be answered.
The dispute in the Nepal Communist Party came to the notice of the Election Commission on December 22—two days after Oli recommended the dissolution of the House and announced midterm polls—when the factions held separate meetings of their Central Committee. While Oli expanded his faction’s Central Committee to 1,199 members and later to 1,501, the Dahal-Nepal faction ousted Oli as the party chair.
As per Article 271 of the constitution, a party which has been registered at the commission, needs to re-register to contest new elections.
And Section 48 of the Political Parties Act-2017 and its regulation state that a political party willing to take part in elections should register by following the due procedure.
As far as the Election Commission is concerned, there is still one Nepal Communist Party—the one that was announced in May 2018 after the merger between Oli’s CPN-UML and Dahal’s CPN (Maoist Centre).
On Sunday, the commission rejected claims by both factions that it be declared the legitimate party since neither had submitted applications with the necessary legal paperwork and gave recognition to the existing party structure. The poll body said that it notified the concerned party that it still recognised Oli and Dahal as the chairs of the Nepal Communist Party, meaning even though it has split, politically, legally it remains one.
As per Clause 9 of the Political Parties Regulations, more than one party cannot be registered with the same name.
“Even though the Election Commission recognised the party’s 441-member Central Committee, which we had registered at the commission, in its recent decision, it failed to recognise our faction which garnered majority support in that existing Central Committee,” said Lilamani Pokharel, a Standing Committee member, who is also the point person appointed by the Dahal-Nepal faction to communicate with the commission.
Pokharel had gone to the Election Commission on Friday to notify that the faction cannot participate in the meeting due to the absence of its chairs—Dahal and Nepal—in Kathmandu because of their busy schedule. He, however, did not attend the meeting called by the commission.
Leaders of the Oli faction, however, did attend the meeting, including its Standing Committee member Subas Nembang.
Leaders said they told the commission that their faction would help the body hold midterm elections on the dates announced.
The Dahal-Nepal faction, however, has been demanding that the House be restored, and on January 11, it even made a formal request to the commission to halt the election preparations, stating that the House dissolution case is being heard by the Supreme Court.
Given this context, there is also a question of whether this faction will take part in the electoral process at all, as it has to be discussed in the party, according to Pokharel.
“How would our party be registered for election purposes without settling the dispute regarding which faction legitimately represents the Nepal Communist Party,” Pokharel told the Post.
As long as the dispute in the ruling party remains, registering the party at the request of one faction will be disputable.
But the Oli faction wants to register it as the legitimate Nepal Communist Party for election purposes, saying party chair Oli and general secretary Bishnu Poudel both are in the same faction.
“In the past, letters sent to the commission with the signature of chair KP Sharma Oli were legitimate correspondence of the party,” said Ramesh Badal, an advocate aligned with the Oli faction. “In the present context, when the party’s meeting gave the authority, the general secretary [Bishnu Poudel] has signed the letter addressed to the Election Commission.”
Pokhrel on the other hand claimed that those letters sent by the party before the dispute arose had no meaning for determining the legitimacy of the party.
“After Dahal was made executive chair and before the recent dispute arose, no letter had been sent to the commission because there was no such need,” said Pokharel. “Letters sent in the name of Oli regarding ticket distribution for National Assembly elections and by-elections for local governments do not make the faction led by Oli legitimate.”
According to the commission, both chairs—Oli and Dahal—had signed the letter when the letter was dispatched to the commission for registration of the party for by-elections of the House of Representatives, Provincial Assembly and the National Assembly in 2019 and early 2020.
But Oli had signed letters in candidate nomination papers, according to the commission.
Officials at the commission and legal experts say that the commission must decide the legitimacy of one faction to hold elections.
“The decision taken last week not to give legitimacy to any faction of the Nepal Communist Party led the problem to nowhere,” said a former official at the legal department of the commission. “It has to make a decision on the matter sooner or later.”
Another former official of the commission, who wished to remain anonymous, said that the commission could give legitimacy to the faction that comes up with authorised signatures.
But even whose signature would count as authorised remains a question.
If the commission gives legitimacy to Oli faction’s application on the basis that past correspondence between the Nepal Communist Party and the Election Commission had his signature, another faction is likely to challenge that, according to the official.
And if it recognises the Dahal-Nepal faction because it has the support of the majority of Central Committee members, the Oli faction might challenge it in court.
“Other political parties may register at the commission first, once the notice is issued,” said a commission official. “But in the case of the Nepal Communist Party, the commission may decide to conclude the registration process at a later date.”
But with just three months to go for the elections, the commission has little time to lose before deciding on the matter.
Election Commissioner Dahal admitted that the commission was still unsure how the Nepal Communist Party could be registered.
“Let’s see how we receive the application,” Dahal told the Post. “We are also holding legal consultations and studying the relevant laws.”