Oli counts his achievements as if in a poll rally and defends move of dissolving the HouseAddressing a mass gathering, prime minister expresses his commitment to the federal democratic republic.
Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli on Friday tried to defend his House dissolution move, as he encouraged his party cadres to create an environment for the polls, and asserted his commitment to the federal democratic republic.
Addressing his supporters—the number was estimated to be around 40,000 to 50,000 even though the party had claimed to bring in 200,000—from a stage in front of Narayanhiti, which used to be the seat of kings until monarchy was abolished, Oli appeared defensive.
“This KP Oli, who fought for half a century for a republican set-up, democracy and social justice and equality, will declare revival of monarchy, they say,” said the 69-year-old, in what looked like his response to allegations that he is in a bid to take the country on a regressive path. “No one should even think of altering the federal democratic republic. We have fought for it.”
Oli, who returned to power on the nationalistic plank, lately has been trying to woo the pro-monarchy, pro-Hindu constituency. His visit to Pashupatinath Temple, the first by a sitting communist prime minister, and his unending lectures on Hinduism and Lord Ram in recent days have given ample room for people to question his commitment to secularism.
It was, however, the first occasion when Oli publicly expressed his commitment to the federal republic.
Oli charged his opponents with trying to spread rumours against him, saying he would declare the revival of monarchy from Friday’s gathering.
Justifying his December 20 House dissolution move, Oli said that he had declared elections for April 30 and May 10 for [political] stability.
But instead of offering any grounds provided by Nepal’s constitution, Oli presented Britain’s example to back his House dissolution move.
Oli said that the United Kingdom does not have a written constitution, but the prime minister there recently dissolved the House, using his inherent power.
Oli faces criticism for dissolving the House because experts say Nepal’s constitution does not allow a majority prime minister to do so. In giving Britain’s example, however, Oli was right to say that the country does not have a written constitution but he wrongly drew reference to justify his House dissolution move.
House dissolution in Britain is governed by the Fixed-Term Parliament Act-2011.
The act not only stipulates a clear schedule for elections but also has removed the ability of the monarch to formally dissolve Parliament at the prime minister’s recommendation.
The act also has two exceptions. Early elections could be held if a motion for an early general election is agreed either by at least 434 Members of Parliament out of 650; or, if a motion of no confidence is passed and no alternative government is confirmed by the House of Commons within 14 days.
In Oli’s case, he has cited articles that are meant for the formation of a government to dissolve the House. Constitutional experts say Oli killed the House even before giving it an opportunity to explore if there was any possibility of forming an alternative government.
Oli also said that he was forced to dissolve the House because he was not allowed to perform by his opponents in the party.
But at the same breath, Oli claimed that under his leadership the country has made massive progress and achieved unprecedented development.
No prior government has ever achieved such quick development, he declared.
“In the last three years, we have blacktopped 6,000km of roads; constructed more than 400 bridges and built over 400 suspension bridges,” said Oli. “We are inaugurating substations and transmission lines each day. We are focused on infrastructure and modernising the agriculture sector.”
He said that Pancheshwar Power Project will be constructed soon, irrigation will begin at Chandani-Dodhara in six months, flood issues will be resolved in the Tarai, postal highway is almost complete, East-West Highway widening work is underway and railway services will begin after a few days.
“We can reach Keyrung [on China border] within one hour after two tunnels are constructed,” he said.
He also took credit for making “tremendous” achievements in controlling the coronavirus pandemic.
“We have controlled an increasing mortality rate due to Covid-19. Now we have already brought its vaccine. The vaccination has already started from those working on the frontlines. This will continue until we become Covid-19 free,” he said. “Treatment of Covid-19 is going well. Today swab tests are taken from 82 places every day. We are vaccinating from more than 300 booths. We laid the foundation stones of 309 hospitals in a day.”
Nepal rolled out its coronavirus vaccination drive on January 27 with one million doses of Covid-19 vaccine provided by India under grant assistance. But according to South Asia Check, Oli’s claims that the government is vaccinating people from 300 booths is wrong. Citing the Health Ministry, South Asia Check said that on February 1, people were vaccinated against Covid-19 in 77 districts from 191 booths.
Oli on Friday appeared to be out on the hustings.
“People are saying they want polls. Now everyone might have heard,” said Oli. “The country has gone to the polls now. Now the election will determine who should form the government.”
Oli also refrained from making acerbic comments, a permanent fixture otherwise of all his addresses, against his opponents.
“I would like to say whether we want instability or we want polls,” said Oli. “We don’t threaten anyone like they [Dahal-Nepal faction]. They use threatening languages but we make requests with respect. They threatened the Supreme Court and the Election Commission. So I want to urge our institutions which are independent to make decisions with their conscience.”
Leaders of the Dahal-Nepal faction have been saying that the House must be restored and elections could invite instability.
Geja Sharma Wagle, a political commentator, said Friday’s gathering by the Oli faction looked more like an election rally.
“Oli’s silence on secularism, however, was meaningful,” said Wagle.
Though Oli repeatedly expressed his commitment to the federal republic, he chose not to touch upon anything Hindu, unlike in his recent programmes where he oftentimes brought one thing or the other related to the religion.
Wagle said Oli will continue to try to woo conservative and rightist constituencies of the Nepali society.
“I think by holding the function today, Oli just wanted to show his strength,” Wagle told the Post. “So in terms of content, there was little.”
Friday’s mass gathering by the Oli faction came as a response to other parties, especially the Dahal-Nepal faction which has been holding demonstrations ever since Oli dissolved the House.
On January 22, Oli had ridiculed the Dahal-Nepal faction’s demonstrations, saying his party will show what a mass gathering really means.
In the lead up to Friday’s programme, criticism had come thick and fast. A governing party in Nepal has not held any programme in a show of force in recent past. Oli was facing more censure for the choice of venue—Durbarmarg in front of the former royal palace. Many believe with his nationalist card fading, Oli is now trying to use the Hindu card.
Even though Oli spoke nothing on the matter, some of his confidantes believe that the issue of federalism and secularism, which according to them were adopted forcibly, could be the agenda of the party during the upcoming polls.
“Though Oli did not talk anything about these issues, I believe our party could make a referendum on both secularism and federalism one of the agendas for the upcoming polls,” said Karna Bahadur Thapa, a central member of the Oli faction.
Though there are some pro-Hindu, pro-monarchy forces in Nepal, they are scattered and are not well organised. In recent months, they have been organising rallies in different parts of the country, including in Kathmandu, demanding reinstatement of the Hindu state and monarchy.
The Oli administration, which has been swift in deploying security apparatus when protests are held, however, has rarely used force against pro-Hindu, pro-monarchy demonstrations, stoking speculation if Oli holds a soft corner for them.
The one politically organised party in Nepal with pro-Hindu, pro-monarchy agenda is the Rastriya Prajatantra Party, which won just one seat in the federal parliament in the 2017 elections.
Though it initially objected to Oil’s House dissolution move, the Rastriya Prajatantra Party later welcomed the government’s bid to seek a fresh mandate.
Mohan Shrestha, a central member of the Rastriya Prajatantra Party, said it was unlikely that Oli would make any announcements on Hindu state.
“At least I was not in confusion of any sort. I had not expected anything related to Hindu state from Oli,” Shrestha told the Post. “He cannot take the risk of going beyond the democratic and republican framework now.”
Analysts say Oli might continue to try wooing the pro-monarchy, pro-Hindu constituencies but making any announcement on those issues would have been like shooting oneself on the foot.
“Oli knows very well that speaking in favour of such matters publicly would make him lose the ground on which he stands,” said Hari Roka, a political commentator. “Any announcement regarding Hindu state and monarchy would mean going against the constitution.”