A complex political triangle Nepal’s two parties in opposition and the Maoist Centre makeThe Maoists are looking to Congress, which does not want to make any move, while the Janata Samajbadi Party is a divided house. Amid this, Oli continues to wield power.
Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli should have resigned, technically, on moral grounds immediately after the Supreme Court on February 23 overturned his December 20 decision to dissolve Parliament, calling the move unconstitutional, and reinstated the House, ordering the first meeting within 13 days.
Oli, however, did not. There’s no legal provision forcing him to resign.
Then came yet another decision from the Supreme Court on March 7. Oli's CPN-UML and Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s Communist Party of Nepal (Maois Centre) were resurrected.
The reinstated House now has four parties controlling substantial numbers of seats—the UML, the Nepali Congress, the Maoist Centre and the Janata Samajbadi Party.
As Oli continues to wield power, the three parties that could have unseated him are looking to each other.
The Maoist Centre wants the Congress to make a move, and vice versa. The fourth largest force, Janata Samajbadi Party, is divided, with two top leaders ready to join hands with Oli and as many opposed to the idea.
The one way the political process could have moved forward is if the Maoist Centre had withdrawn the support it lent Oli back in February 2018.
“We don’t want to be the cause of political instability in the country by withdrawing support [to the government] at this time,” said Barshaman Pun, a Standing Committee member of the Maoist Centre.
According to Pun, the Maoist Centre believes that it’s incumbent upon Oli to seek a vote of confidence in the House.
But Pun would not say why Oli should seek a vote of confidence when he continues to enjoy a majority—with numbers enough on his side to remain prime minister.
With the support of the Maoist Centre’s 53 members in the lower house, Oli, whose UML had won 121 seats, was elected prime minister in February 2018.
The UML currently has 120 seats, with one member dead. Since four of the Maoist Centre members have defected to Oli, the Maoist party currently has just 49 seats.
Pun said if the Congress commits to leading the new government, the Maoist Centre would not mind withdrawing support.
On Tuesday, Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba and Maoist Centre chair Dahal held a meeting to chart out a strategy to unseat Oli.
But there was no remarkable progress, according to a Congress leader.
“There is no point in agreeing with the Maoist Centre’s idea that we [the Congress party] file a no-confidence motion against Oli,” the leader, who is familiar with the discussion between Deuba and Dahal, told the Post on condition of anonymity.
“Speculations are also rife about a possible split in the Janata Samajbadi Party. In such times, when the Maoist Centre is reluctant to withdraw support and the Janata Samajbadi Party is divided, why should we make a move?”
While Mahantha Thakur and Rajendra Mahato of the Janata Samajbadi are in negotiations with Oli on supporting the government, Baburam Bhattarai and Upendra Yadav of the party are dead against it.
“We are a small party. If other parties [the Congress and Maoist Centre] call us the decisive force, then it will not only be wrong but injustice to us,” said Mahato. “Either the Congress party should file a no-confidence motion or the Maoist Centre should withdraw support, if they want the process to form a new government take forward.”
Even after the reinstatement of the House, Oli is making a strong pitch for early elections.
Oli had, at an all-party meeting called by President Bidya Devi Bhandari on March 16, said that he had dissolved the House because it had become irrelevant and that he still believed so.
While some leaders had criticised Oli’s House dissolution move, Deuba, the Congress president, had opted not to speak.
The Nepali Congress leader who spoke on condition of anonymity said that Oli seems to have his roadmap clear—dissolve the House again for early polls.
As per constitutional provisions, elections must be held within six months to elect a new House of Representatives once the present one is dissolved.
Multiple leaders the Post spoke to over the past few days said the party is actually not averse to the idea of early polls.
“Deuba’s lukewarm response to Dahal’s offer to lead the government is because he has no qualms if Oli declares early polls,” another Congress leader who comes from a rival faction in the party told the Post.
For Oli, as of now, the odds appear to be stacked in his favour. While he has managed to tighten the noose around his arch-rival Madhav Kumar Nepal, who in association with Dahal once created troubles for him, Oli seems to have his Plan B or even Plan C ready.
If the Maoist Centre withdraws support, Oli will have to seek a vote of confidence in the House and in that case, he would drop the idea of roping in the Janata Samajbadi Party. His failure to win the vote of confidence would mean other parties must try to form a new government. If the Congress chooses not to make any move, the House will head towards dissolution, something both the Congress and Oli won’t mind.
“It will take some more time before the picture becomes clearer,” said Nepali Congress spokesperson Bishwa Prakash Sharma. “We are also in a dilemma… we don’t know if the Janata Samajbadi Party is going to remain intact… we don’t know if it would be willing to lead the government. Discussions are still continuing on different alternatives.”
The Maoist Centre too is weighing its options. With the revival of the UML and the Maosit Centre, Dahal has lost his key ally—Madhav Nepal.
Whether Nepal, who Oli has suspended for six months, will continue to struggle against Oli by being in the UML or decides to quit is not clear yet.
Some in the Maoist Centre believe that the Nepal faction could desert Oli and join them.
“For now, we have given assurances to the Nepali Congress and the Janata Samajbadi Party that we would withdraw our support to Oli,” Narayan Kaji Shrestha, spokesperson for the Maoist Centre, told the Post. “We are just wondering whether to withdraw support before or after a no-confidence motion is registered.”
But who is going to file the no-confidence motion against Oli?