Pokhrel reappointed Lumbini chief minister amid protests from opposition partiesConstitutional experts call the development a farce and against the spirit of the parliamentary system.
Shankar Pokhrel has been reappointed as chief minister of Lumbini.
As a no-confidence motion was set to be tabled on Sunday afternoon at a special session of the Provincial Assembly, Pokhrel resigned earlier in the morning as the chief minister and prepared to stake claim to the government. He was eyeing a new wholly CPN-UML-led government in the province.
After what looked like a brief glitch in his plan, when an assembly member switched sides to join the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre), Pokhrel, however, was reappointed chief minister.
The appointment followed an emergency meeting of the party’s Standing Committee called by Oli in Kathmandu followed by his visit to Sheetal Niwas to hold talks with President Bidya Devi Bhandari.
“Provincial Chief Dharma Nath Yadav has appointed leader of the CPN-UML Parliamentary Party of Lumbini Provincial Assembly Shankar Pokhrel as the chief minister as per Article 168 (1) of the constitution,” states a press statement issued by Chiranjibi Poudel, spokesperson of the Office of the Provincial Chief. “Earlier today, Pokhrel had presented his claim for the formation of a new government with signatures of the majority of the Provincial Assembly members.”
Earlier in the day, with 41 seats with him, Pokhrel was in a bid to seek to form a new government as per Article 168 (1).
But a Provincial Assembly member, Bimala Khatri, decided to remain with Maoist Centre, thereby making Pokhrel one short of a majority in the existing 81-member assembly.
Despite that Provincial Chief Yadav reappointed Pokhrel as per Article 168 (1), raising many an eyebrow.
UML’s Provincial Assembly members, however, say Bimala Khatri used to attend the UML’s Parliamentary Party meetings and has her signatures in the minutes, hence her last-minute decision to switch the party does not count.
“She changed the camp just today. We have evidence to show she has attended the UML’s Parliamentary Party meeting after the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) was invalidated,” Rewati Raman Sharma, a UML Provincial Assembly member, told the Post. “Pokhrel got reappointed as we have 41 assembly members with us.”
Khatri was elected to the Provincial Assembly on the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) ticket from Dang Constituency 3 (B) in a by-election held on November 30, 2019. The Nepal Communist Party (NCP) was invalidated by the Supreme Court on March 7 and its constituent parties–UML and the Maoist Centre–were revived.
In a press statement issued on Sunday, Khatri said she decided to be with the Maoist Centre.
On April 19, 41 members of the Provincial Assembly–19 of the Nepali Congress, 17 of the Maoist Centre and five Janata Samajbadi Party–had registered a no-confidence motion against Pokhrel, proposing Maoist Centre leader Kul Bahadur KC as the next chief minister.
They had also demanded a special session of the Provincial Assembly. But hours after the motion was registered, Pokhrel had inducted four Janata Samajbadi Party members into Cabinet. Of the four members inducted as ministers, three had signed the no-confidence motion.
In the 2017 elections, the Nepali Congress had won 19 seats, Maoist Centre 20, Janata Samajbadi six and Rastriya Janamorcha one seat.
The Maoist Centre’s two members and Janata Samajbadi’s four members are suspended. With a Maoist Centre member holding the post of Speaker, the party has 17 seats in the assembly.
Pokhrel’s appointment came minutes before the parties that filed the no-confidence motion were planning to stake claim to the government as per Article 186 (2), claiming that he had fallen into a minority after Khatri’s decision to join the Maoist Centre.
Immediately after Pokhrel’s reappointment, Dug Narayan Pandey resigned as a UML Provincial Assembly member.
“I have resigned as a [UML] party member and Provincial Assembly member on moral grounds as I failed to keep my promise to the people,” Pandey told the Post over the phone.
Two other UML Provincial Assembly members, Ajay Shahi and Dharma Bahadur Lal Srivastav, have decided to support the opposition parties’ claim to the government with KC as the chief minister.
Shahi and Srivastav, both from Kapilvastu, were elected with the “sun” election symbol of the UML. Though they identified themselves as independent assembly members, they had supported Pokhrel when he was elected chief minister in February 2018 with the support of the Maoist Centre.
“We were not UML members, but yes, we did attend UML meetings. We identified ourselves as an independent group,” Srivastav told the Post over the phone. “We want to make it clear that we don’t support Pokhrel as chief minister.”
After Pokhrel was re-appointed chief minister, as many 42 members of Nepali Congress, Maoist Centre, Janata Samajbadi Party and Rastriya Janamorcha besides Shahi and Srivastav have reached the office of the provincial chief and demanded him to stop the oath-taking ceremony as they have the majority.
“We have different options even if the provincial chief refused to change his decision, Pokhrel will have to take a vote of confidence within a month,” said Dama Sharma, a Provincial Assembly member from the Maoist Centre. “We can also call for another special session which should be called within 15 days.”
In the evening, amid sloganeering by opposition members of the assembly, Provincial Chief Yadav administered the oath of office and secrecy to Pokhrel.
Constitutional experts have said the way Lumbini province today re-appointed Shankar Pokhrel as the new chief minister even after losing the majority was nothing but a farce and against the spirit of the parliamentary governance system.
“Oli had to take a vote of confidence within a month after the court divided the ruling party. So there must be a malafide intention in his abrupt decision to seek a vote of confidence when the pandemic is becoming uncontrollable,” said Chandra Kanta Gyawali, a constitutional expert. “He has no justification now as the Maoist Centre has not withdrawn support, as he was saying he still enjoys a majority.”
According to political economist Roka, Oli has become weaker but still, he wants to damage the political system by not allowing time for the new government to bring policy and programmes and the budget as stipulated by the constitution.
“If he was honest he should have sought the House confidence long ago,” said Roka. “But now he is doing it after provincial governments are gradually losing grounds.”