Deuba set to govern for a year and a half as he wins House confidenceAs many as 165 lawmakers vote in favour of Deuba’s trust motion while 83 vote against and one remains neutral.
Five days after his appointment as prime minister, Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba on Sunday evening won the vote of confidence in the reinstated House of Representatives, ensuring that he will lead the government for a year and a half—or until the periodic elections are held.
Deuba’s confidence vote win also saves Parliament from dying an untimely death after two earlier assaults by the erstwhile prime minister, KP Sharma Oli, in December last year and May this year.
On Sunday evening, 165 lawmakers voted in favour of Deuba and 83 against. One lawmaker remained neutral. Only 249 lawmakers in the 271-strong lower house were present during voting.
“I hereby declare that the vote of confidence motion tabled by Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba has been endorsed with a majority,” Speaker Agni Sapkota said after the voting.
Deuba, 75, took over from Oli whom he had handed over power exactly three years and five months ago on February 18, 2018 after overseeing the first elections, held under the new constitution, which his party lost badly.
After Oli’s CPN-UML merged with the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) in May 2018, he was leading a near two-thirds majority government, set to rule for the full five-year term.
But after the fall of Oli’s government, Deuba now has the support of 60 percent of the lawmakers. Oli, in turn, has become the leader of the opposition party despite leading the largest party in the House with 121 members.
On Sunday, as many as 22 lawmakers from the UML, including from the Madhav Nepal faction, which has been waging its own war against Oli in the party, voted in favour of Deuba.
Until Sunday afternoon, Deuba had the support of all 49 lawmakers from the Maoist Centre as well as 17 lawmakers of the Upendra Yadav-Baburam Bhattarai faction of the Janata Samajbadi Party.
However, while addressing the House, Mahantha Thakur, who leads another faction in the Janata Samajbadi Party, declared that he and lawmakers in his group would vote for Deuba.
The Janata Samajbadi has 34 members in the lower house, but two remain suspended.
When Oli took the trust vote on May 10, the Thakur faction had stayed neutral, while the Yadadv-Bhattarai faction had voted against. As many 28 lawmakers from Oli’s party, who belonged to the Nepal faction, had abstained.
“Oli’s ego brought him to the present situation,” Surendra Labh, a political economist, told the Post. “His self-centredness and failure to keep his own party united pushed him to the opposition bench.”
Despite losing the trust vote, Oli was appointed prime minister on May 13 as leader of the largest party in Parliament as per Article 76 (3) because Deuba, then the leader of the opposition, did not lay claim to the post of prime minister for a coalition government as per Article 76 (2) after failing to garner support from the Nepal faction. But Oli skipped the constitutional provision of securing a vote of confidence laid down in Article 76 (4) and asked President Bidya Devi Bhandari to invoke Article 76 (5).
When Deuba presented his claim with the signatures of 149 lawmakers, including 26 from the Nepal faction, Oli himself claimed that he had the support of 153 lawmakers—121 from his UML party and 32 from Janata Samajbadi Party. President rejected both claims by Oli and Deuba, following which Oli dissolved the House.
The Deuba-led opposition alliance filed a petition at the Supreme Court, and as many as 23 lawmakers from the Nepal faction supported. On July 12, the court overturned Oli’s House dissolution and asked the Office of the President to appoint Deuba as prime minister.
Though Deuba had until August 11 to secure a vote of confidence, he decided to do so on Sunday, on the first day of the House session.
Sunday’s voting commenced after lawmakers addressed the House, which went on for hours.
While tabling the vote of confidence motion in the beginning of the second meeting of the House, Prime Minister Deuba sought support from all. He said that while healthy criticism and competition among parties are essential in a democracy, there is a shared responsibility to fight against Covid-19 pandemic and poverty among others.
“I will take every step to take all the parties together,” said Deuba while asking all to vote in favour of his motion.
Pradeep Gyawali, spokesperson for the UML, said though his party accepts the verdict of the Supreme Court, its decision had introduced a partyless system in parliamentary democracy.
He claimed that the court misinterpreted Article 76 (5) of the constitution.
“Attempts have been made to dismantle the pillars of separation of powers,” he said. “It was wrong on the part of the court to declare an individual a prime minister.”
Gaywali said that his party has no qualms over leaving the government. “But we have serious reservations about the court appointing the prime minister,” he added.
Countering Gaywali, Nepali Congress leader Minendra Rijal said the court did not appoint Deuba the prime minister, but it just reminded everyone of constitutional supremacy.
“Why attack the Supreme Court? Your ego compelled Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Madhav Kumar Nepal to use their vote of conscience against your government,” he said, responding to Gyawali. “The court has only reminded everyone of the fact that no one can breach the constitution.”
The leaders from the ruling coalition said UML leaders were trying to create an illusion by misinterpreting Article 76 (5).
Addressing the House, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, the Maoist Centre chair, said Article 76 (5) was introduced in the constitution after long discussions in the Constituent Assembly with a view to allowing individual lawmakers to use their conscience to choose an individual lawmaker as prime minister.
“You (Oli) tried to dismantle the constitution time and again and now you are talking about constitutionalism and separation of powers,” said Dahal. “Your ego, individualism and self-centeredness will take you nowhere. You have already started facing the consequences, you will continue to face in the future as well.”
Oli was not present in the House when lawmakers were addressing. He, however, joined his members when the voting started.
After the Speaker announced that Deuba had won the vote of confidence, Oli was seen making a beeline for Deuba to extend congratulations.
Deuba became the prime minister for the first time on September 12, 1995. He served until March 12, 1997–by then the Maoist’s “people’s war” had completed one year.
He was again appointed prime minister on July 26, 2001 when the Maoist war was at its peak. Under pressure from his own party not to extend the state of emergency, Deuba dissolved the Parliament. After he he sought postponement of elections, then king Gyanendra sacked him on October 4, 2002, branding him “incompetent”. However, after two governments, Gyanendra appointed him prime minister again on June 4, 2004 only to dismiss him on February 1, 2005 when the now deposed monarch assumed absolute power in a royal coup.
After the promulgation of the constitution on September 20, 2015, Deuba returned to power on June 7, 2017, for the fourth time, with the backing of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre). After his party faced a drubbing in the elections held in November-December 2017, largely because the Maoist Centre formed an electoral alliance with Oli’s UML, Deuba handed over power to Oli on February 18, 2018.
But after Oli’s two House dissolutions in less than six months, Deuba once again took over from Oli.
In what many call an irony, it’s once again the Maoist Centre’s support which has once again catapulted Deuba into power.
Those who have followed Nepali Congress politics closely say Deuba has an opportunity to correct Oli’s highhandedness and disregard for Parliament and constitution.
“History has given Deuba an opportunity to right Oli’s wrongs,” Taranath Ranabhat, a former Speaker, told the Post. “Performance of Deuba will determine how well the people perceive the Congress in the next elections. It is in the hands of Deuba to better the future of the country and the party at the same time.”
On Sunday evening, minutes after Deuba won the vote of confidence, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi extended congratulations.
“Congratulations Prime Minister @DeubaSherbdr and best wishes for a successful tenure. I look forward to working with you to further enhance our unique partnership in all sectors, and strengthen our deep-rooted people-to-people ties,” Modi wrote on Twitter.