Oli does not want to quit on moral grounds but instead is talking of horse tradingImplying elected representatives are for sale is disrespecting the House and electorate, lawmakers and analysts say.
Are Nepal’s lawmakers for sale?
They are, if some recent statements by Nepali politicians are anything to go by.
Ever since the Supreme Court overturned KP Sharma Oli’s December 20 decision to dissolve the House of Representatives on February 23, asking authorities to convene the House meeting within 13 days, “horse trading” is something many people, including politicians, are talking about.
In principle, Oli should have resigned on moral grounds after the Supreme Court’s decision, but he has been challenging his opponents—Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Madhav Kumar Nepal—to oust him.
If Oli does not resign of his own volition, the House is likely to be deadlocked. The only way the Dahal-Nepal faction can unseat Oli is through a no-confidence motion, but since it lacks the numbers, it will need the Nepali Congress support to do so.
The Dahal-Nepal faction claims to have around 90 Members of Parliament on its side. That leaves the Oli faction with 80 to 83 members supporting it. The Nepali Congress has 63 seats in the House and the Janata Samajbadi Party 34.
No party has a majority. And now politicians themselves are expressing concerts if lawmakers could switch sides for their personal gains.
Speaking at a programme in the Capital on Saturday, Minister for Foreign Affairs Pradeep Gyawali, who is also the spokesperson for the Oli-faction of the Nepal Communist Party, said House reinstatement has raised possibilities of horse trading.
“We fear the House would turn into a place of horse trading,” said Gyawali. “What if it becomes a platform for an unnatural alliance devoid of any policy and ideology?”
Oli has been making similar statements.
A day before the Supreme Court’s verdict to reinstate the House of Representatives, Oli on February 22 said the dirty game of horse trading will begin if the House is reinstated.
“The game for the formation of a new government will begin if the court decides to reinstate the House of Representatives,” he said while addressing a mass gathering in Kanchanpur. “This will lead to the dirty game of horse trading.”
Both Oli and Gyawali are elected Members of Parliament, and their statements hinting that other elected people could be bought and sold so easily undermine not only the lawmakers but also the hallowed House, according to leaders and analysts.
So far, leaders of the Oli faction have been constantly talking about the dangers of the horse trading game taking centre stage, just while Oli himself has not given two hoots about resigning on moral grounds despite the Supreme Court saying his House dissolution was unconstitutional.
Lawmakers from both factions of the Nepali Communist Party say such statements about horse trading are condemnable.
“Such statements from Oli and a senior leader from his faction are uncalled for,” said Surendra Karki, also known as Ram Karki, a leader from the Dahal-Nepal faction. “There is no match to them in making irresponsible comments.”
According to Karki, if anyone is making attempts to “buy” lawmakers then it’s those from the Oli faction.
“But they must understand no one is for sale,” Karki told the Post.
Leaders from the Oli faction also say it’s wrong for senior leaders, including the prime minister, to make such irresponsible statements, which not only disparage lawmakers but also belittle the House.
Sher Bahadur Tamang, a lawmaker from the Oli faction, said one gets to Parliament through the mandate of his or her constituency.
“Saying that lawmakers are for sale is hence directly undermining the electorate who send them to the House,” Tamang told the Post. “Such statements make light of the faith the people have put in those who elect their representatives.”
Both Tamang and Karki say horse trading might have been possible in the past, but these days everyone is closely watching their representatives and keeping an eye on their activities.
Horse trading has for long plagued even countries like India, the United Kingdom and the United States.
The Oxford dictionary defines horse trading as hard and shrewd bargaining, especially in politics. In political parlance, it refers to negotiations characterised by hard bargaining and give-and-take, and various degrees of compromise.
Nepal has its own experience of horse trading in the past.
The term got wider currency in Nepali politics after the restoration of democracy, especially after the 1994 mid-term election. At that time, parliamentarians were said to be “bought”, even taking to Thailand on excursions and hauled into a hotel, as parties made desperate attempts to form a government.
Similar claims were made after the 2000s but that were never substantiated.
In 2009, then prime minister Baburam Bhattarai had claimed the CPN-UML was offering a hefty sum of money to Constituent Assembly members to form a government led by Madhav Kumar Nepal. He had claimed that Constituent Assembly members were being offered as much as Rs3 million each. His claim too was not established.
In 2010, an alleged audio recording of Krishna Bahadur Mahara was released in which he appeared to be seeking millions of rupees to offer to lawmakers. In the audio tape in which the voice was said to be of Mahara’s, the speaker was heard asking money from China to pay around 50 lawmakers–Rs 10 million each.
No proper investigation was launched and the issue died down. Whether Mahara actually made the phone call also could not be established.
Now, three years after the first elections under Nepal’s new constitution, which was said to have ushered in political stability, horse trading is once again getting traction.
Since the Nepal Communist Party, formed in May 2018 after the merger of Oli’s UML and Dahal’ Maoist Centre, has not split legally yet, even though it has been cleaved into two politically, politics has become complicated.
While Oli does not appear to be in any mood to resign, the Dahal-Nepal faction looks desperate to unseat him after the Supreme Court verdict, calling it a victory for them.
While the Dahal-Nepal faction needs support of lawmakers to oust Oli through a no-confidence motion, Oli himself would need dozens of parliamentarians to save his position.
Or else, the House will remain deadlocked, and there is no other legal or constitutional way to make Oli step down.
Experts say the Supreme Court of Nepal did a commendable job by bringing politics back within the constitutional framework and to Parliament and that now it’s the job of political actors to maintain the sanctity of politics. By spreading rumours of horse trading, according to them, leaders themselves are belittling lawmakers, and by extension those who elected them and the House.
“Either they have to establish what they are saying and bring facts before the public or they should stop spreading such rumours,” Bidur Prasad Phuyal, a professor of political science at Tribhuvan University, told the Post. “Responsible people don’t make such statements that bring disrespect to a hallowed institution like Parliament where the sovereign people send their representatives.”
According to Phuyal, it will be wrong to say that Nepali politics has not seen the game of horse trading in the past. But to get rid of such practices, Nepali people supported political parties in various movements so that there would be clean politics aimed at serving the people.
“No one has the right to disgrace the House and it looks like its members are doing so by making such statements,” said Phuyal.
There indeed was a semblance of political stability in Nepal after a government with nearly two-thirds majority was installed in 2018 under Oli after then UML and the Maoist Centre swept the 2017 elections.
But the Nepal Communist Party unity was fragile, and continuous infighting put the hard-earned stability in danger.
And Oli did most of the damage, according to experts.
Shyam Shrestha, a political commentator who closely follows Nepal’s left politics, said Oli attacked the constitution, dissolved the House, dragged the Office of the President into controversy and now he is spreading rumours about horse trading.
“I don’t think people’s representatives will sell their ideology,” Shrestha told the Post. “The rumour about horse trading is a manifestation of the Oli faction’s insecurity and frustration.”