Oli tells Nepal faction to withdraw support to Deuba. Dissidents refuseWith the court verdict on House dissolution imminent, he tells party lawmakers to abandon the opposition alliance for any chance of unity between the warring factions.
CPN-UML chair KP Sharma Oli has given an ultimatum to the Madhav Kumar Nepal-led faction: withdraw the signatures in the writ petition filed at the Supreme Court demanding the restoration of the House of Representatives and the appointment of Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba as prime minister.
Or else unity between the two factions will not be possible, Oli has warned.
“Party unity is not possible if they refuse to withdraw their signatures by 5pm Monday,” a Central Committee member quoted Oli as saying at the party’s Central Committee meeting on Friday. “No UML member can make a Congress leader prime minister. This is not acceptable.”
The Nepal faction remains defiant.
“We won’t follow his orders,” said Ghanshyam Bhusal, a deputy general secretary of UML who is with the Nepal faction. “Now we don’t care about any of his actions or punishments. We will wait until the court’s verdict.”
On May 24, two days after President Bidya Devi Bhandari invalidated the claim Deuba made to form the government, 146 lawmakers of the dissolved lower house went to court. Of them 23 belong to the UML.
The President had refused to appoint Deuba saying that his claim, despite having the support of 149 members of the 275-member House, was ‘insufficient’. On May 21 Oli too had staked a claim to the government as per Article 76 (5) of the constitution, saying he had the backing of 153 lawmakers from his party, UML, and the Janata Samajbadi Party.
A five-member Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court has been hearing the case since June 23.
On Friday, lawyers of two of the three defendants—Office of the President, the Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers, and Prime Minister Oli—completed their arguments.
The final verdict is expected next week.
Before the verdict, lawyers of Speaker Agni Prasad Sapkota, who has already termed the dissolution of the House unconstitutional, will present their arguments. This will be followed by briefs from a four-member amicus curiae and rebuttal by plaintiffs’ lawyers.
Analysts say that the UML has reached such a complicated point that the two warring factions can neither move ahead nor turn back. Nothing will happen in the UML until the Supreme Court’s verdict, according to them.
All eyes are now on the Supreme Court, said Shyam Shrestha, an analyst who has followed Nepal’s left politics for decades.
Ever since Oli dissolved the House, his position has become untenable, as the Supreme Court has passed at least half a dozen orders against his government’s decisions.
As the court is expected to pass its verdict soon, and many expect the bench to order the restoration of the House, Oli seems to be attempting to placate the Nepal faction.
Oli now wants to ensure that the dissidents withdraw their signatures before the court verdict, according to Bhusal.
In their arguments, the plaintiff’s lawyers have said that the House dissolution was illegal since Oli did not go for a floor test, a mandatory process defined in Article 76 (4) for a prime minister appointed under Article 76 (3). They have also argued that the President must appoint Deuba prime minister as he had the signed support of the majority of the lawmakers while Oli only had the decision of the two parties.
However, the lawyers representing the Office of the President and Oli have argued that the decision of the President does not come under judicial review and that the House dissolution is a political issue and therefore the court cannot look into it.
During the hearing on Friday, advocate Ramesh Guragain, who was arguing on behalf of the defendants, claimed that the Parliament cannot give a government even if the court decides to reinstate it.
“After the House is reinstated, the prime minister cannot prove a majority and nobody else can do so,” said Guragain. “Earlier too, the reinstated House failed to give an alternative government. Nor could the parties bring a no-confidence motion. Since a similar situation will arise once again, the dissolution is appropriate.”
Oli had sought a vote of confidence in the House on May 10 following the restoration of the House on February 23 and the split of the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) into CPN-UML and Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) on March 7. But he lost the confidence vote.
However, he was appointed prime minister on May 13 as the leader of the largest party in Parliament as per Article 76 (3) of the constitution after no one laid claim to the post.
With the verdict of the Constitutional Bench nearing, in a bid to appease the Nepal faction, Oli on Wednesday had decided to convert the 10th national convention organising committee into the party’s Central Committee. Oli’s message was that he was turning the clock back to May 16, 2016.
The Nepal faction had long been demanding that the party’s structures existing prior to May 18, 2018, before the UML merged with the Maoist Centre, be revived.
But the Nepal faction did not attend Friday’s Central Committee meeting.
Yubaraj Gyawali, a leader close to Nepal, said they would not take part in the meeting called by an illegal committee.
“Oli’s call seems to be ill-intentioned,” he said.
He said that in order to ensure unity in the party, there must be cordial dialogue between the top leaders so as to finalise the agenda of the meeting.
“Oli’s only intention is to break the existing alliance of the opposition parties and the bond within our group and lure some leaders from our group into his fold,” Gyawali told the Post.
While there were 203 members in the UML Central Committee on May 16, 2018, it was expanded to 241 before the merger with the Maoist Centre the next day. Oli then unilaterally expanded it to include 23 leaders who defected to his party from the Maoist Centre in December last year.
Before the Central Committee met on Friday, three leaders close to senior leader Nepal—Surendra Pandey, Gokarna Bista and Bhim Acharya—had reached Baluwatar to request Oli to postpone the meeting. But he refused.
“We asked Oli to postpone the meeting and not spoil the environment for party unity,” said Pandey.
The meeting, scheduled to discuss party unity, the upcoming Supreme Court verdict and contemporary political issues, decided to ask the Nepal faction not to go against its own party and not to support Deuba’s bid for the premiership.
Following the meeting, Pradeep Gyawali, party’s spokesperson, said, “We have made it clear to all concerned that in a multi-party system, signatures of the members made without the party’s decision cannot be valid.”
The Nepal faction, however, is prepared to defy Oli’s directives.
“We are expecting even worse actions from Oli in the coming days,” Bhusal told the Post. “Oli is unpredictable. If he feels weakened he can take any decision.”
The Nepal faction had demanded that Oli finalise the unity deal including taking it into confidence in the running of the government and the party and its fair representation in the Central Committee before the Supreme Court’s verdict but that did not happen.
It now believes that the court decision will weaken Oli and he will be forced to accept the terms it has put forth.
If the Supreme Court decides to reinstate the House, Oli will be under pressure as he is not prepared to give up the prime minister’s post and he could do anything to secure it, according to leaders of the Nepal faction.
“If the court reinstates the House, Oli will have to go for a floor test as per 76 (4) for which he needs our support,” said Beduram Bhusal, another leader close to Nepal.
But analysts say this fight has gone beyond quests for positions.
“I don’t think there is much chance of the two UML factions joining hands anytime soon,” said Shrestha, the political analyst. “Even after the Supreme Court verdict, it’s difficult to say that Oli will give ample space to the Nepal faction as he has made it a prestige issue. And Nepal has said that he will not abandon the opposition alliance.”