Will Oli’s confidence vote plan shake up political landscape?Maoists withdraw support and Nepal-Khanal supporters are mulling resigning as lawmakers. Congress eyes government and Janata Samajbadi is still a divided house.
Politics seems to be a priority for Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, not the ongoing pandemic that has been sickening people at an exponential rate and taking the lives of more and more people every day. And other parties are not behind.
As the country reported the highest ever single-day toll of 55 deaths due Covid-19 and another record daily surge of coronavirus cases of 7,587, Nepal’s top politicians were busy plotting and scheming for advantage.
Oli’s Sunday decision to seek a trust vote in Parliament has unleashed a new chain of events. A House meeting has been called for May 10 when Oli will move the motion for a floor test.
Oli as of now appears clear in his roadmap. If he survives the trust vote, he will lead the government for the full term. If he fails, he will make every move to stop his opponents from forming a coalition government and take the country towards polls.
Oli’s move prompted the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) to withdraw its support, forced the Nepali Congress to think if it indeed has prospects of leading a coalition government and agitated the Janata Samajbadi Party. Last but not least, Oli has managed to goad the Madhav Nepal-Jhala Nath Khanal faction into considering whether time has come for them to make a decisive move.
After vacillating for two months, the Maoist Centre finally decided to withdraw the support it lent Oli back in February 2018. The Madhav Kumar Nepal-Jhala Nath Khanal faction within Oli’s CPN-UML is trying to figure out its next move. The Nepali Congress, the principal opposition party, is weighing options if it could lead the government. The Janata Samajbadi Party, the fourth largest force in the House which holds the key, is trying hard to remain united.
Maoist Centre spokesperson Narayan Kaji Shrestha said that his party would officially inform the Parliament Secretariat about the party’s decision to withdraw its support to Oli.
“The party has authorised chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal to take a final decision on pulling out support to the government,” said Shrestha. “Today’s Standing Committee also dwelt on the intention behind Oli suddenly seeking a vote of confidence in the Parliament.”
Even though the Maoist Centre and the CPN-UML were revived by the Supreme Court on March 7, two weeks after it overturned Oli’s House dissolution decision, the Maoists had not withdrawn their support to the government.
Oli was elected prime minister in February 2018 with the support of the Maoist Centre.
Ever since the two parties were revived, Oli had challenged the Maoist Centre time and again to withdraw its support if it really wanted to unseat him.
Oli’s chances of surviving the vote of confidence depend on how the Nepal-Khanal faction responds and whether the Janata Samajbadi Party stands in his support.
If the Nepal-Khanal faction goes by the party whip and the Janata Samajbadi votes for Oli, he will continue to stay in power. If the Janata Samajbadi does not vote for him, the Oli government will fall.
A Congress office bearer said that if Oli fails the trust vote, the party will take the lead to form a new government with the backing of the Maoist Centre and Janata Samajbadi.
“We are constantly in talks with the two parties,” the Congress leader told the Post. “We are also watching the Nepal-Khanal faction.”
Oli’s UML party has 121 seats in Parliament, with around 30 members said to be commanded by the Nepal-Khanal faction.
The 275-member House of Representatives currently has 271 members, as four Maoist Centre members have lost their positions. The Maoist Centre, hence, has just 49 seats.
The Nepali Congress has 63 members (two remain suspended) and the Janata Samajbadi Party has 34 members (two suspended).
For someone to prove a majority, 136 votes are required. Though suspended members are included to define the strength of the House, they cannot vote as per parliamentary regulations.
For the Congress and the Maoist Centre to form a government, they will need at least 26 Janata Samajbadi Party votes, as even though the former two parties have 112 votes, only 61 of the Congress members can vote.
The Janata Samajbadi Party so far has not given a word on supporting the Congress-Maoist Centre coalition. Rather, two of its top leaders–Mahantha Thakur and Rajendra Mahato–are cosying up to Oli.
Oli’s supporters say seeking a vote of confidence is the prime minister’s prerogative and he can do so whenever he wishes.
“The Nepal-Khanal faction has to make its position clear now, either it’s with Oli or it’s against Oli,” said a UML Standing Committee member from the Oli camp.
By deciding to seek a trust vote, Oli has clearly flummoxed his opponents, who are still trying to figure out what he is actually eying. One plausible reason is Oli wants snap polls. If he fails in the trust vote, many believe, Oli thinks another government is not possible, which will mean House dissolution and elections.
With his decision, Oli has finally forced the Maoist Centre to withdraw its support.
Now he seems to be trying to send a message to the Nepal-Khanal faction to pick a side.
A Standing Committee member close to Nepal said many leaders of the Nepal-Khanal faction are even discussing whether they should resign en masse as lawmakers.
“We don’t want to cross the floor, but we are discussing resignation en masse if Oli refuses to take us along. We have not made a final decision yet,” said the Standing Committee member asking not to be named. “Some leaders have also said when Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba is not ready for a no-confidence motion and has been siding with Oli, their resignation won’t be necessary.”
Even though the Maoist Centre has offered Deuba multiple times to become the prime minister by unseating Oli, the Congress leader has not made any concrete moves. Deuba maintained that firstly the Maoist Centre had not withdrawn support, and secondly, there was no commitment from the Janata Samajbadi.
The Janata Samajbadi itself is a divided house, with two top leaders, Mahantha Thakur and Rajendra Mahato, siding with Oli, and as many senior leaders, Upendra Yadav and Baburam Bhattarai, making a pitch for toppling the government.
As things stand, according to Janata Samajbadi leaders, the party is clearly divided vertically, with the Upendra-Baburam group commanding 18 lawmakers.
But even if the 18 lawmakers extend support to the Nepali Congress and the Maoist Centre, a coalition government is not possible, unless the Nepal-Khanal faction’s lawmakers resign.
The Nepal-Khanal faction claims it has around 30 lawmakers on its side. The faction is already vexed with Oli for seeking clarification from its as many as 27 lawmakers.
Speculation is also rife that if the Nepal-Khanal faction’s 30 lawmakers resign en masse, the equation in the House will change. In that case, the House strength will reduce to 241 and the magic number will come down to 122. If 18 of the Upendra-Baburam faction leaders support the Congress and the Maoist Centre, Deuba could become prime minister.
But many say that is still “if and only if.”
A Nepal-Khanal faction leader said that time has come for them to make a decision now.
“If the motion fails, Oli will take the country towards polls which is not possible. If Oli survives, he is certainly going to initiate action against us,” said Ghanashyam Bhusal, a Standing Committee member close to Nepal. “So, we are discussing whether resigning en masse is the best option.”