Are Nepal’s parties taking the country towards early polls?Oli is for elections, and Congress, the main opposition, Maoist Centre, Oli’s former ally, and Samajbadi Party, the fourth but a key force, appear to give their tacit consent.
When Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli dissolved the Parliament on December 20 and declared polls for April 30 and May 10, every other party—the Nepali Congress, the Janata Samajbadi Party and a faction of his own Nepal Communist Party (NCP) decried the move. Their argument was that the dissolution decision was unconstitutional and it threatened the very political stability that parties had tried to achieve through the 2017 elections held under the constitution adopted in 2015.
The House, however, was restored by the Supreme Court on February 23, calling the dissolution unconstitutional. By extension, the polls were automatically scrapped. It was largely expected that the political process would return to Parliament.
The Supreme Court then on March 7, the day the first meeting of the reinstated House was summoned, passed a dramatic verdict, scrapping the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) and reviving the CPN-UML and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre).
Over a month since the House was resurrected, Nepal’s political parties are behaving in such a way that the country would head towards an early election.
“It looks like all this drama is being orchestrated for early polls,” said Surendra Pandey, a Standing Committee member of the UML, who is currently with the Madhav Nepal-Jhala Nath Khanal faction. “Attempts are being made so that Oli’s early polls plan could be justified.”
As per the schedule, the general elections need to be held in November-December next year. But many say the likelihood of elections a year early—by November-December this year cannot be ruled out.
After the Supreme Court overturned his House dissolution decision, Oli was expected to resign on moral grounds. He, however, did not. And Pushpa Kamal Dahal, the Maoist Centre chair, who was at the forefront of demanding Oil’s resignation after the latter dissolved the House could simply have withdrawn the support his party lent the government back in February 2018. But he did not.
The Nepali Congress, the main opposition whose duty is to hold the government to account, could have moved a no-confidence motion against Oli for taking an unconstitutional move, which was corrected by the top court. The Congress did not.
On its part, the Janata Samajbadi Party, the fourth largest force in Parliament, could have taken initiative to form an alliance with the Congress and the Maoist Centre to topple the Oli government. It rather decided to remain engaged with Oli in a bid to achieve a power-sharing deal
Multiple leaders the Post spoke to over the past few days say the one way the Oli government may continue till the election time next year is if he manages to cultivate the Janata Samajbadi Party, which itself is a divided house.
Two top leaders of the Samajbadi Party, Mahantha Thakur and Rajendra Mahato, are ready to join hands with Oli, while as many, Upendra Yadav and Baburam Bhattarai are opposed to the idea.
The Maoist Centre has hesitated to withdraw support to Oli, fearing he could dissolve the House again. The Nepali Congress does not seem to have any qualms over early polls. A section of the Janata Samajbadi Party has made it clear that it does not mind joining hands with Oli or participating in the polls if held early.
Analysts say the ball is in the Maoist Centre’s court.
“If the Maoist Centre withdraws its support to Oli, there are chances that neither Oli nor his opponents could garner a majority,” said Jhalak Subedi. “In that case, parties could agree for early polls.”
After the Congress party on April 2 decided to make a move against Oli, the Maoist Centre was planning to withdraw support to Oli. However, it suddenly postponed the meeting of its Standing Committee scheduled for April 4.
“There has been no concrete development when it comes to our discussions with the Nepali Congress and the Samajbadi Party,” said Pampha Bhusal, a Standing Committee member of the Maoist Centre.
The Congress (61 seats), the Maoist Centre (49 seats as four have defected to Oli), and Janata Samajbadi Party (32) together make 142 seats in the lower house, enough to form the government.
But the process to form a new government could begin only after toppling Oli for which either the Maoist Centre has to withdraw support to initiate the process or any other party has to file a no-confidence motion against him.
“We tried to garner a majority to topple Oli, but the Nepali Congress and Janata Samajbadi Party were reluctant,” said Dev Prasad Gurung, a Standing Committee member of the Maoist Party. “By not speaking against Oli’s attack on the constitution, the opposition parties seem to be making way for early polls by letting Oli dissolve Parliament again.”
According to Gurung, his party alone won’t be able to save the House if the Nepali Congress and Janata Samajbadi Party want early elections.
According to Maoist leaders, Deuba has been reluctant despite Dahal proposing him as the prime minister.
“Deuba seems to be in favour of early polls,” said Devendra Poudel, a Standing Committee member of the Maoist Centre. “But we want the Nepali Congress to decide what to do after toppling Oli. The Janata Samajbadi Party holds the key, but it too has remained undecided.”
Rajendra Mahato, a senior leader of the Janata Samajbadi Party, however, says his party’s focus currently is on getting their demands fulfilled.
“We have nothing to do with the government [formation] until there is a commitment on our demands for releasing hundreds of our imprisoned leaders and cadres, withdrawing fake cases and amending the constitution,” Mahato told the Post.
Oli on his part has been challenging his opponents to file a no-confidence motion if they can. Last week, Oli asked his opponents to file a no-confidence motion instead of demanding his resignation.
A no-confidence motion may not just mean toppling Oli, as there are chances of House dissolution, if a new government cannot be formed. And such a dissolution would be constitutional this time.
“If we continue to remain undecided, Oli could take the country towards polls again by dissolving the House. And if that does not happen, the country could go to polls under the leadership of Deuba or any other leader in consensus,” Poudel, the Standing Committee member of the Maoist Centre, told the Post. “Whether we want or not, the nation seems to be heading towards early elections.”
Deuba, however, appears to have set sights on party presidency rather than the government leadership.
According to Pradip Poudel, a central member of the Congress party, Deuba is pressing for holding the party’s general convention.
“I think Deuba believes that the Congress could win the polls even if Oli leads the election government,” said Poudel.
But some political analysts say there is more to Nepali politics than meets the eye.
According to Hari Roka, a political economist, Kathmandu politics has become much more complicated than it appears and things are not limited to just Nepali political actors.
“Recent political developments in the country also have something to do with geopolitics, some super powers’ interest and the rivalry between our two giant neighbours,” Roka told the Post.
“Even if the parties agree on early polls, complications could arise due to various factors and some could be attributed to the fight over who leads the election government.”