Oli dangles a carrot as Nepal-Khanal faction waversNepal-Khanal group remains indecisive as prime minister faces a trust vote today. Janata Samajbadi is a divided house. Congress waits and watches. So do the Maoists.
8,777 new coronavirus infections.
88,160 active cases.
400,000 infections which the country is going to log soon since the pandemic began.
These were the numbers related to the Covid-19 pandemic on Sunday.
Nepal’s political parties, however, had some other numbers to focus on.
CPN-UML chair and Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli was busy figuring out how to achieve the magic number in the House of Representatives on Monday. His bete noire Madhav Kumar Nepal was totally engrossed in figuring out what number of lawmakers he could make resign. The Nepali Congress was calculating if it could get the required numbers to lead the government after unseating Oli. The Janata Samajbadi Party deliberated on how to keep its numbers in the House intact and how to utilise them. The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre), which appears to have totally lost the game, appeared to be sitting helpless with non-significant numbers in its kitty.
That the government has given up its fight against the pandemic has already become an understatement, especially after Oli told CNN on Saturday that the coronavirus “situation is under control” in Nepal.
And other parties that could have held the government to account for its spectacular bungling in handling the pandemic have proven themselves to be useless, analysts have said time and again.
As the ongoing pandemic has failed to become Nepali politicians’ priority, on Sunday, they were busy holding meetings on crunching their own numbers.
Had leaders of the Madhav Nepal-Jhala Nath Khanal faction made a “decisive move”, as they had promised, there would have been some clarity on how Monday’s vote of confidence would move forward.
The Nepal-Khanal faction, however, could not take any decision. Later in the day, Oli sent his two close aides, Bishnu Poudel and Subas Nembang, to convince the Nepal group to put their resignation plan on hold.
“We have decided to wait until 9am tomorrow [Monday] for Oli to express his commitment to bringing the party to the stage where it was before May 2018,” Yogesh Bhattarai, a UML secretary, told reporters following hours-long meeting after the message from Oli. “Oli must commit to running the party on the basis of consensus. We will try our best till the last moment to ensure that the party remains united.”
Oli on Sunday evening also issued a statement, which did strike a conciliatory tone but carried a veiled threat too.
“There have been attempts to defeat the party and some are even planning to resign [as lawmakers] en masse,” reads the statement. “Will history forgive those involved in such activities? Let's think, what will we tell the people tomorrow? So, as a party chair I would like to appeal and request not to be involved in such criminal activities knowingly or unknowingly.
Oli in his statement has also said that he would like to assure “all that the party will not discriminate against anyone.”
The Nepal-Khanal faction’s announcement that its lawmakers would resign en masse by Sunday afternoon never looked convincing, given their vacillation over the past few months. However, it did pile pressure on Oli, especially after a faction of the Janata Samajbadi Party communicated to him that it won’t vote in his favour.
The Mahantha Thakur-Rajendra Mahato faction of the Janata Samajbadi had been in negotiations with Oli for the past few weeks. But the party itself is a divided House. The Upendra Yadav-Baburam Bhattarai faction in the party is opposed to the idea of supporting Oli.
The Nepal-Khanal faction is said to have control over 20 lawmakers, and their en masse resignation would reduce the House strength to 251 from 271 and Oli’s votes to 101.
In that case Oli would have needed 26 more votes to win the vote of trust. Thakur and Mahato’s message that they would rather stay neutral has put Oli in a fix.
But the likelihood of forming a coalition government after Oli fails the trust vote is also low.
The Janata Samajbadi, which has 32 votes (2 lawmakers are suspended), has not committed to supporting the Nepali Congress, thereby creating confusion in the main opposition if it should take the lead to form a new government.
The Congress and the Maoist Centre have already decided that they would vote against Oli’s trust motion. With 61 votes (two lawmakers are suspended) with the Congress and 49 votes with the Maoist Centre, they will need 16 seats if they were to form a coalition government.
If such a situation arises, the country could head towards polls.
If Oli fails in a trust vote and the Congress-Maoist Centre faction fails to form a new government, the President will invoke Article 76 (3), asking the leader of the party that commands the most number of seats, which is of course Oli, to form a government.
If Oli is appointed prime minister under this clause, he will need to seek a vote of confidence within 30 days from the date of the appointment. If he fails again, the House would be dissolved and fresh elections would be declared.
Leaders from the Nepal-Khanal faction said everything depends on how Oli comes up on Monday morning.
According to Bhattarai, if Oli refused to express commitment by 9am Monday, lawmakers close to the Nepal-Khanal faction would take a decision from their meeting scheduled for 9:30am.
Meanwhile, the Janata Samajbadi has decided not to issue a whip to its lawmakers.
However, according to Upendra Yadav, who leads an opposition faction in the party, told reporters that the party has decided not to vote in favour of Oli.
“Lawmakers are free to stay neutral or vote against Oli’s trust motion,” said Yadav. “It is our consensus decision not to vote in favour of Oli’s confidence motion. We have left our lawmakers free to use their conscience, whether to stay neutral or vote against Oli. It’s about the vote of conscience.”
But another leader Rajendra Shrestha said that the faction led by Thakur and Mahato could vote in favour of Oli.
“Yes, the party has decided to vote against Oli or remain neutral,” said Shrestha who is from the Yadav-Bhattarai faction. “We will vote against Oli, but the group led by Thakur and Mahato could vote in favour.”
Oli can save his government if he manages to stop lawmakers from the Nepal-Khanal faction from resigning. Sending Nembang and Poudel to meet Nepal on Sunday evening was Oli’s last-ditch effort to convince the opponents.
“We had candid talks. We conveyed the party chair Oli’s concerns and comrade Nepal too shared his grievances,” Nembang told the reporters after the meeting. “We had a serious discussion on why party unity is important and how we can save the party unity.”
With Oli’s position increasingly becoming untenable, the Nepal-Khanal faction leaders were also concerned that Oli could postpone Monday’s House session by employing Sheetal Niwas.
After his meeting with Oli’s confidants, Nembang and Poudel, Nepal briefed the lawmakers from his faction.
“There was nothing new,” said Bhattarai. “It looks like they [the Oli group] want to buy time and distract us.”
Rumours also did rounds that Oli could even tender resignation to avoid the trust motion and stake claim to the prime minister’s post as per Article 76 (3), as the leader of a party with the highest number of members in the House.
Late in the night, Nepal responded to Oli through a six-point letter, where he demanded that the party chair run the organisation as per the party statute, procedures and established norms.
Nepal has also demanded that Oli scrap the March 12 decisions.
On March 12, through a Central Committee meeting, Oli had decided to amend the party statute to incorporate 23 leaders of the Maoist Centre and changed the responsibilities of party leaders, stripping leaders close to Nepal of their responsibilities.
Nepal has said his faction could take a decision on the next move, including what to do with Oli’s Monday trust vote only after Oli agrees to correct himself.
UML Chief Whip Bishal Bhattarai has already issued a whip to all the lawmakers to vote in favour of Oli’s trust vote.
According to the leaders of the Nepal faction, things have reached a point of no return.
“We are planning to finalise everything as soon as the offices open on Monday,” said Metmani Chaudhary, a lawmaker close to Nepal. “Our resignation is essential to ensure that Oli does not continue as prime minister.”