Nepal Prime Minister Oli loses vote of confidence in ParliamentPresident gives parties until Thursday to form a new government. The Nepali Congress and Maoist Centre look to Janata Samajbadi as they lack the numbers.
Anil Giri & Tika R Pradhan
President Bidya Devi Bhandari on Monday evening called on the political parties to form a new government as per Article 76 (2) of the constitution, latest by Thursday evening. The call came after Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli failed to secure a vote of confidence in Parliament earlier in the day.
“President Bidya Devi Bhandari has called the parties represented in the House of Representatives to present their claim for the purpose of appointing a member of the House of Representatives commanding majority in Parliament as prime minister as per Article 76(2) by 9pm, Thursday,” reads a notice from the Office of the President.
The President’s call has put the onus on the opposition parties, the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre), to initiate the process to stake claim to the government.
As soon as Oli failed the trust motion, which he tabled earlier in the day,
the Nepali Congress, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) and a faction of the Janata Samajbadi Party led by Upendra Yadav issued a joint statement calling on President Bhandari to invoke Article 76 (2) of the constitution to pave the way for the formation of a new government.
“The prime minister has lost the confidence motion he had tabled as per Article 100 (1) of the constitution. Hence, he has automatically been relieved of his post as per Article 100 (3),” Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba, Maoist Centre chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Yadav, one of the chairs of the Janata Samajbadi Party, said in the joint statement. “So we call upon the President to initiate the process to form a new government under Article 76 (2).”
Article 76 (2) says in cases where no party has a clear majority in the House of
Representatives, the President shall appoint as prime minister
a member of the House of Representatives who can command majority with the
support of two or more parties in the House of Representatives.
Opposition party leaders said now it all depends on the decision of the Janata Samajbadi Party, which has become the kingmaker, how the government formation process moves forward.
It was not immediately clear what move the Madhav Nepal-Jhala Nath Khanal faction of the ruling CPN-UML is going to make.
“The Janata Samajbadi Party’s decision will be crucial in the formation of a coalition government,” Ramesh Lekhak, a Congress leader, told the Post. “We welcome the President’s call for the formation of a new government.”
That the Janata Samajbadi is a divided house was evident during Monday’s voting in Parliament. Out of its 32 lawmakers, 15 lawmakers voted against Oli’s and as many remained neutral.
“Two of our lawmakers did not attend the House meeting because they had caught Covid-19,” Raj Kishor Yadav, a Janata Samajbadi Party leader, told the media after Monday’s voting.
Oli needed 136 votes to win the trust vote in the 271-strong House of Representatives. But of the 232 lawmakers present in Monday’s House meeting, only 93 voted in his favour. A total of 124 votes were cast against him.
As many as 28 lawmakers of the Nepal-Khanal faction were absent during Monday’s voting.
As of now, the Congress and the Maoist Centre are not in a position to form a new government, as they command a total of 110 votes together–short of 26 to reach the magic number of 136.
Monday’s voting pattern showed that the Mahantha Thakur-led faction of the Janata Samajbadi commands 15 seats. Earlier in the day, while addressing the House, Thakur said that “our party would remain neutral.” After Thakur, Upendra Yadav of the Janata Samajbadi addressed the House and said that “our party would vote against the confidence motion.”
It clearly leaves the Yadav faction with 15, or a maximum of 17, votes–not enough to help the Congress-Maoist Centre alliance form a coalition government.
Monday’s voting may have reduced Oli to a caretaker prime minister, but analysts and observers say he has not lost the game yet, as politically he could emerge as the victor anytime soon. At what cost he will emerge as victorious is a different question, but Oli seems to have played his cards well, according to analysts.
“What happened today was part of Oli’s design,” said CK Lal, a political commentator and a columnist for the Post. “Given the voting pattern, it looks like things are moving the way Oli wants them to move. Now the onus to form a new government and unseat him lies with the opposition parties, but they cannot do so.”
If the opposition parties fail to give an alternative to the Oli government, the most likely scenario would be House dissolution, this time constitutionally, and the country would head towards early polls.
When Oli dissolved the House on December 20 last year, he had said the country needed to seek a fresh mandate. His dissolution decision, however, was overturned by the Supreme Court on February 23. The court asked authorities to call a meeting of the restored House within 13 days. Hours before the House held its meeting on March 7, the Supreme Court in a dramatic verdict invalidated the Nepal Communist Party (NCP), which was led by Oli and Dahal, and handed them over their old parties–the UML and the Maoist Centre.
The UML and the Maoist Centre had merged in May 2018 to form the Nepal Communist Party (NCP).
If the Congress-Maoist Centre alliance fails to form a new government, the President, as per the constitution, has to invoke Article 76 (3).
Article 76 (3) says in cases where the prime minister cannot be appointed under Clause (2)... or the prime minister so appointed fails to secure a vote of confidence within 30 days from the date of appointment, the President shall appoint as prime minister the parliamentary party leader of the party which has the highest number of members in the House of Representatives.
In the current equation, Oli’s CPN-UML, with 121 lawmakers, is the party with the highest number of members in the House.
Until a new prime minister is appointed, Oli will continue to lead the Council of Ministers.
Article 77 (1) (b) states that “the office of the prime minister shall be vacant if a vote of confidence is not passed…”
But Article 77 (3) states that if the office of the prime minister falls vacant under 77 (1), the same Council of Ministers shall continue to act until another Council of Ministers is constituted.
While the Janata Samajbadi holds the key to the formation of a new government, there remains one more possibility for just the Congress and the Maoist Centre to form a new government.
As per Monday’s voting trend, if all 28 lawmakers from the Nepal-Khanal faction resign as lawmakers, the House strength will be reduced to 243 from 271. In that case, the Congress and the Maoist Centre, with 110 votes in total, will need 122 votes. They can form a government if they ensure the support of the Yadav faction. In that case, Oli, with 93 votes with him, will still fall short of 29 votes, which is practically impossible.
The Nepal-Khanal faction for the last few days had been saying that its lawmakers would resign. However, they did not. And instead, on Monday morning, they decided to remain absent.
A UML Standing Committee member close to Oli said the party has no plans to initiate action against and sack the Nepal-Khanal faction lawmakers as that could make it easier for the opposition parties to form a new government.
Some leaders say yet another way of forming a new government is letting the Janata Samajbadi Party lead it.
A Congress leader said if Thakur is given the post of prime minister, the entire Janata Samajbadi could extend its support to the Congress-Maoist Centre coalition.
If the opposition parties fail to form a government under Article 76 (2) and Oli gets re-appointed as per Article 76 (3), he needs to win the vote of confidence within 30 days from the date of the appointment.
If Oli fails that vote, once again Article 76 (5) could be invoked if any member presents a ground on which he or she can obtain a vote of confidence in the House of Representatives, the President shall appoint such a member as prime minister.
The prime minister appointed in this manner also needs to secure a vote of confidence within 30 days. Failure to do so would lead to House dissolution.
Narayan Kaji Shrestha, spokesperson for the Maoist Centre, said that at present the Janata Samajbadi Party’s role has become crucial.
“We have seen the notice from the Office of the President. This has come in line with our demand,” Shrestha told the Post. “Top leaders of all three opposition parties will sit and talk tomorrow.”