Annual Analysis: Domestic Politics and Governance

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This year completes 6 years since the promulgation of the constitution declaring Nepal as a federal democratic republic. The 2017 elections installed three tiers of government—federal, provincial, and local and its practice. The year 2021 saw a strong influence of the center politics that affected implementation of functioning in provinces as well as local government.

General Convention of Political Parties Reelects Old Party Chairs

The general conventions of CPN-UML and Nepali Congress reelected former party chairs for the next tenure while The Maoist Center concluded its convention with the Central Committee members handpicked by Prachanda and who was appointed the chairman by the newly appointed Central Committee. The lack of debates on ideological orientation of the party and rigorous discussion on party’s further political pathway within CPN-UML and Nepal Congress’ conventions signals the pertinent ideological crisis within the parties. While the Prachanda brought into discussion the Party’s further strategy, it was criticized by the convention representatives claiming it to be incomplete and failing to analyze the current political concerns. Prachanda remained silent on the counter-proposal tabled by Dev Gurung and dissenting views forwarded by other leaders. The failure of Prachanda to answer the issues upon his ideological and political report indicates the growing dissatisfaction of party cadres with their leadership, including the issues of lavish lifestyles of Maoist leaders and their (il)licit relationship with big contractors and businessmen.

The common pattern among the three major parties is the consolidation of the ruling elites in the leadership, sidelining the principles of inclusion in the selection of office holders. This is visible among the personalities appointed for UML’s top party positions and candidates elected for Nepali Congress leadership. Although Nepali Congress tried to make its structure inclusive through reservation system for various identity clusters in the positions of deputy general secretary, the candidates from minorities, female and other unrepresented groups got largely defeated in direct elections for various party posts.

Except Nepali Congress, the lack of democratic norms within intra-party politics was vividly surfaced during the convention of the major three political parties. UML chairman Oli’s motive was to appoint all leadership positions and central committee members through consensus, restricting dissent and competition. Although he was challenged by Bhim Rawal for the post of the party chair, Oli handpicked most of the central committee members and office bearers. Oli’s strong disregard of democratic practice, ideological discussions or political programs in the disguise of consensus politics and his desire to be appointed as the unchallenged party president reflects his authoritarian dynamics and institutionalization of his cult personality within the party. Furthermore, even during the Maoist’s convention, democratic elections for party positions were sidelined in the name of appointing the office bearers and central committee members through consensus. In this regard, Nepali Congress took a different approach selecting its party officials and central committee members more democratically.

The selection of youths in the top party positions within the CPN-UML and Nepali Congress has been seen as a positive move. The appointment of new generation politicians Gagan Thapa and Bishwo Prakash Sharma as the General Secretaries of Nepali Congress, and of Gokarnaraj Bista and Yogesh Bhattarai as Secretaries of CPN-UML among many other youths in various central positions more positive steps to shift the party leadership to the younger generation.

House dissolution, Government Changes, Parliament Obstruction and Implications

Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and CPN (UML) Deputy Leader Subash Nemwang are holding a discussion in the House of Representatives. Photo: RSS

After the factions in the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) when Prachanda and Madhav Kumar Nepal proposed a motion of no confidence amid Oli’s increasing autocratic behavior within the party and government, Oli decided to dissolve the House in December 2020 and called for fresh elections. However, Oli’s move was overturned by the supreme court. Further in March 2021, the supreme court invalidated the NCP and revived CPN-UML and CPN-Maoist Center which subsequently led to the withdrawal of CPN-Maoist Center’s support to the government, compelling Oli to seek a vote of confidence as per the constitutional provision.

Oli failed to obtain the required confidence vote, rendering Oli’s cabinet into a caretaker. However, he was again appointed prime Minister in May as opposition failed to lay their claim for the post. Aware that he could not get the required vote of a confidence, Oli dissolved The House again second time and declared a fresh election for November which was blindly approved by the President. This unconstitutional move again pushed the country towards instability and political turmoil. However, in July the Supreme Court dismissed the Oli’s recommendation and President’s approval to dissolve the House and appointed Sher Bahadur Deuba as prime minister as demanded by the opposition alliance (Nepali Congress, CPN-Maoist Center, CPN (US), Janata Samajwadi Party and Rastriya Janamorchha). Further, the Madhav Nepal faction formed a new party CPN (US) away from Oli-led required charging if as autocratic and undemocratic nature.

Although Nepal had finally attained a stable government with a two-third majority, Oli’s arrogance eventually led to its dissolution twice. Together with the support of President Bidya Devi Bhandari, PM Oli politicized both the presidential and parliamentarian institutions for his personal interest. A whole show of questions has been thrown at the president’s approval of Oli’s moves which has diluted the dignity of the president’s institution. UML was seen obstructing the House proceedings after the Speaker denied to strip the 14 lawmakers who formed the CPN (US) including Madhav Kumar Nepal. This irresponsible act of the main opposition, (CPN-UML) hindered the House passage of a number of bills including crucial bills related to the federal civil servants and Provincial Police Ordinance, 2078.  

The dynamics of central politics and coalition of five parties ultimately brought change in the provincial governments, isolating CPN-UML and overthrowing the chief ministers representing CPN-UML. Previously, the CPN-UML-led governments ruled in six provinces except in Province 2. But Oli now lost the federal government as also the six provincial governments. The current political dynamics signal continuation of five party alliance in the upcoming general election at least on an ad-hoc basis to challenge the CPN-UML which had established itself as the largest party in the last general election.

Split in the Nepal Communist Party and Its Consequences

Nepal Communist Party (NCP) which found itself divided into three parties, squandered a historic opportunity to lead the country toward political stability and usher economic prosperity. One key reason behind all this was the complete dominance that KP Sharma Oli sought over the party, and various levels of government. After Oli assumed the position of the Prime Minister, he consolidated his power under him by putting several constitutional entities under his authority. Despite an agreement between Oli and NCP co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal to lead the government for two and a half years each, Oli failed to fulfill his side of the bargain, enraging Prachanda.

As a result, in the battle for the NCP’s leadership, Dahal established an unofficial alliance with Madhav Kumar Nepal, to unseat Oli. The NCP drifted apart amid this scenario. The Supreme Court decided that the consolidation of May 2018 between CPN-UML and CPN- MC was unlawful. After the Court’s ruling, the party’s two factions, the CPN UML led by Oli and the CPN-MC led by Dahal restored their original status as independent political parties.

Due to ideological in coherence, mismanaged leadership and Oli’s ego, the unity among the largest communist parties could not sustain. It is apparent that while Communist parties in Nepal may unite and win elections, but sustaining their unity and electoral victory are different matters.

While the factionalism within CPL UML continued, Madhav Kumar Nepal felt sidelined within the party since his supporters were overlooked in the party’s rank. Prime Minister Deuba tried to make the most of the circumstances by destabilizing CPN-UML, and introduced an ordinance allowing any group of a political party to split the party with an approval of at least 20 percent of the parliamentary party’s or Central Committee’s members which, ultimately led to Madhav Kumar Nepal’s faction to part its way to set up a new party – CPN (Unified Socialist).

Allegation against the Chief Justice and Protest Impacts the Supreme Court’s Hearings

Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher Rana was embroiled in a heated controversy after he allegedly demanded a share in Prime Minister Deuba’s Cabinet, changed with seeking a ministerial berth for his brother-in-law, who got appointed as a minister on October 8. Since Hamal was not a member of the parliament, it was assumed that his entrance was a part of a deal between PM Deuba and Chief Justice Rana to overturn Oli’s attempt at House dissolution. When questions were raised over his appointment, PM Deuba requested Hamal to resign the position. Hamal’s appointment and resignation have put Chief Justice Rana and PM Deuba into the spotlight for disturbing the separation of power. 

Following the incident, Nepal Bar Association (NBA), Supreme Court justices, and lawyers demanded resignation of Chief Justice Rana. Rana rejected the allegation and refused to resign but was seen prepared to take “impeachment motion” in the parliament. Following the statement, a protest was launched on 25 October against Rana, demanding his resignation. The lawyers stopped chief justice from entering the Supreme Court and the protests escalated into a scuffle between lawyers and the police when many sustained injuries.

Despite the gravity of the situation, political parties on both the ruling and opposition sides have so far been silent on the issue. The on-going controversy in the judiciary is an outcome of political meddling and flawed appointment processes. Political analysts and experts are of the opinion that political parties appoint their party workers, arbitrarily in the constitutional posts and to protect their party workers and avoid controversy, hold them silence on the issue. Such unethical practice prevails from Panchayat days and the practice of ‘bench buying’ in the Supreme Court services. The protests effected the court hearings, as also people’s right to justice. Concerned with the judicial deadlock, the International Human Rights Organizations and the Chief of eight constitutional commissions body appealed to the parties in the dispute to find a solution to the deadlock through mutual dialogue. The supreme court justices have decided to implement a lottery system effective from December 1. This effort is an initiation to an end to the long-standing tradition of the head of the judiciary assigning the cases. Nonetheless, the crisis lingers.

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