A Coup against the Constitution

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Oli-Dahal discuss

When the Nepal Communist Party–Unified Marxist Leninist (NCP–UML) and NCP–Maoist Centre (NCP–MC) officially merged in May 2018 after an initial electoral alliance and a massive success, Nepal’s political future felt promising. With an almost two-thirds majority in the federal parliament, the NCP had made the strongest government in decades. The party’s sympathizers as well as the general public and observers were hopeful that after years of political instability, the country had finally got a strong government that could and would work for the people and the country. In fact, even the Communist party’s slogan promised Sukhi Nepal Samriddha Nepal—Happy Nepal Prosperous Nepal. Some were even worried that the merger had made the Communists too strong a party that would eventually fall back to authoritarianism. Nevertheless, others had little faith in the union of KP Sharma Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal–Prachanda, for they saw it as nothing more than ‘a marriage of convenience.’ Today, less than three years since KP Oli became the prime minister and the parties merged, Nepal has become a victim of Oli’s dictatorial propensities, and the Nepal Communist Party has technically split

On December 20, 2020, PM Oli’s cabinet recommended the president to dissolve the parliament, and president Bidya Devi Bhandari quite dutifully endorsed it within a couple of hours, effectively pushing the country into a myriad of uncertainties. With the dissolution came a declaration for the mid-term elections on April 30 and May 10, 2021. As if the move was not already autocratic enough, PM Oli went ahead and filled the Constitutional Commissions with people close to him. The legal basis for this move was the new Constitutional Council Ordinance, which allows the PM to appoint officials without having to consult the opposition leader and/or the House Speaker. While the ordinance had certainly intensified the Oli-Dahal confrontation and made the Dahal faction finally retort to a no-confidence motion, Oli dissolved the federal parliament in a defensive move to prevent the vote of no-confidence against him. Albeit unconstitutionally, the parliament is dissolved now, and the only ray of hope against the autocratic move lies in the Judiciary’s deciding role, which has the authority to overturn the decision, calling the PM’s action unconstitutional.

Nepal’s constitution offers no right to a prime minister with a clear majority to dissolve the parliament. According to Article 76.7 of Nepal’s constitution, only when a prime minister “fails to get the vote of confidence” can he recommend the president for parliamentary dissolution and call for mid-term elections. However, the political circumstance under which Oli acted was nothing of the sort. He was cornered within the party for acting unilaterally and showing authoritarian tendencies, but the factional politics reached the peak when the anti-Oli faction decided to formally request the president to resume the parliamentary session. Fearing a vote of no confidence after a parliamentary resumption, PM Oli made the unconstitutional move;  the president soon stamped an approval. 

China and India

Oli had openly been pro-China and anti-India. It was evident from his populist election campaign, his hosting of the Chinese president to Nepal, the organization of training on Xi Jinping Thought, his public criticism of India, and provocative anti-India comments. However, an internal struggle caused by his authoritarian/unilateral decision-making and disgruntled opponents from within the party, including Prachanda, pushed the party on the verge of a split—the only way Oli could evade the pressure. China did not want the party to split, though. Although it was irked by Oli and wanted him to make way for Prachanda by now, China knew Nepal’s political “stability” at the hands of the Communists was the best way to safeguard its interest in the region. Therefore, Oli, who did not want to give up power, let alone at the hand of Prachanda, had to think of something else. Some argue that the direction Oli turned to this time was India. A recent series of visits from India’s top-level officials, such as Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) chief Samant Kumar Goel, India’s army chief Manoj Mukund Naravane, and Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla did display Oli’s softened stance against India. From a strategic viewpoint, too, NCP’s split would serve India’s interest because a weakened communist force translates to China’s waning influence on Nepal. Nevertheless, it would be a diplomatic and political suicide by India to support Oli, who seems to be on a self-destructive path. India knows it and, therefore, waits and watches how the events unfold. So does China.

With the parliamentary dissolution, the country has once again entered the dark tunnel of political uncertainties. As we anxiously wait to see whether Chief Justice Cholendra Shusher JB Rana realizes his constitutional responsibility and reverses the move or chooses to go down the history as Oli’s accomplice, like president Bhandari, some political parties and the general public have already started protests and demonstrations. All three major political parties—NCP, Nepali Congress, and Janata Samajwadi Party—have intensified intra-party and inter-party discussions on how to respond to Oli’s unconstitutional move. Interestingly, there have been pro-Oli protests in a few places as well, and PM Oli continues to bully his way forward as NCP’s chairman despite the party’s disciplinary action against him; in an effort to ensure a majority, he even expanded the party’s Central Committee unilaterally on December 22. While this could be just a defensive move to nullify Dahal-Nepal faction’s disciplinary action against him, some even anticipate a new ordinance that will allow Oli to split the party on the basis of this new “majority.” What lies ahead is uncertain, but one thing is for sure: despite his new moves, Oli’s position in the party has seriously weakened, and his political future may be at a very unfortunate juncture. What is also certain, and unfortunate at the same time, is an increasing presence of external forces in Nepal’s internal politics in the days to come.

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