May Analysis: Governance

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Abstract

On May 21, President Bidya Devi Bhandari dissolved the House and announced midterm elections on November 12 and 19, repeating last year’s House dissolution scenario of December 20. Petitions against this move are being heard by a bench led by chief justice Cholendra Sumsher Rana in the Supreme Court.

Furthermore, during this month in Nepali politics, there was a rise in politicians trying to turn tides by attempting to utilize constitutional clauses in their favor. Some of them succeeded, whereas others failed as their competitors, or the judiciary, succeeded in using the same clauses against them. Additionally, a partnership seemed to surface between PM KP Oli and president Bidya Devi Bhandari, which spurred strong reactions from opposition parties, the public, and the media.

House dissolution, petitions against it, and the fate of the House

On May 21, president Bidya Devi Bhandari dissolved the House of Representatives as per Article 76 (7) and declared elections in two phases—on November 12 and November 19—on the recommendation of the Council of Ministers, repeating KP Oli’s house dissolution move of December 20. The OPMCM had notified that it couldn’t appoint neither KP Sharma Oli nor Sher Bahadur Deuba as neither had enough ground to form a new government.

As many as 30 petitions were filed to the supreme court against House dissolution and Sher Bahadur Deuba’s prime ministerial post rejection. On May 27, Chief Justice Cholendra Sumsher Rana started preliminary hearing on the petitions. Chief Justice Rana named Justices Deepak Kumar Karki, Anand Mohan Bhattarai, Tej Bahadur KC and Bam Kumar Shrestha as the members of the Constitutional Bench to hear petitions against the House dissolution.        

Hence, the fate of the House rests with the Supreme Court’s decision after it concludes the hearings on the petitions against the House dissolution. If this move is found to be valid, the country will head for fresh elections in November. If not, the same scenario of December 20’s house dissolution will repeat itself.

Lumbini Chief Minister’s attempt to create a new government foiled

Lumbini Chief Minister Shankar Pokhrel sought to create a new government under his leadership according to Article 168(1) “The provincial chief shall appoint the leader of the Parliamentary Party commanding a majority in the Provincial Assembly as the chief minister, and the Provincial Council of Ministers shall be constituted under his or her chair-personship.”

Shankar Pokhrel’s party, UML, had 41 seats, enough to have a majority in the 81 member Provincial Assembly. However, Bimala Khatri, one of the party members, decided to change parties and join Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre). Therefore, UML was left with only 40 seats, not enough to have a majority and not enough to claim the government under their leadership as per Article 168(1) (quoted above).

However, on the other hand, UML Provincial Assembly members claimed that Bimala Khatri attended UML’s Parliamentary Party meetings and her signatures are in the minutes, so her decision to switch parties at the last minute was not valid.

Additionally, Pokhrel had resigned on May 2 to avoid a no-confidence motion. His resignation was approved by Lumbini Provincial Chief Dharma Nath Yadav as per Article 169(1).

However, Shankar Pokhrel was reappointed as Lumbini chief minister following protests from opposition parties as per Article 168(1) of the constitution. After the reappointment, KP Oli held an emergency meeting with the party’s Standing Committee, and he also held talks with President Bidya Devi Bhandari in Sheetal Niwas.

Conclusively, this was an attempt to make use of certain clauses in the constitution to create a new government, however, the attempt was foiled by another political actor in opposition. Put more simply, it was a grab for power denied by a political competitor.

Attempts to evade no-confidence motion

This month, several political actors sought to evade no-confidence motions against them. Some were successful in doing so whereas others were not.

40 Provincial Assembly members from Nepali Congress, Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre), Janata Samajbadi Party and Rastriya Janamorcha filed a no-confidence motion against Lumbini chief minister Shankar Pokharel for the second time on May 9.

Pokharel had dodged the first no-confidence motion vote when he resigned as chief minister, however, he was reappointed as leader of the majority Provincial Assembly party, making it possible for a second vote of no-confidence.

In another case, Gandaki Province Chief Minister Prithivi Subba Gurung resigned a day before a confidence vote was scheduled to take place. The vote was first tabled at the provincial assembly on April 26. Provincial Chief Sita Kumari Poudel called for forming a new government under Article 169(3) of the constitution.

Hence, dodging no confidence motions by resigning has become a common occurrence in Nepali politics. One of the ways to prevent this is to reappoint the politicians who attempt to resign.

Partnership seemingly surfacing between PM KP Oli and president Bidya Devi Bhandari

PM KP Oli didn’t repeat all the words that the President read out during the oath of office and secrecy on May 14, which caused petitioners to say that the oath is thus invalid. Writs were filed in the supreme court which demanded him retake the oath of office and secrecy. The Supreme Court refused to issue an interim order for the oath of office and secrecy taken by Prime Minister KP Oli and asked the OPMCM to create another response within 15 days.

In another case, on May 20, KP Oli recommended that President Bidya Devi Bhandari call to form a new government and appoint a new prime minister by bypassing the parliamentary process, and president Bhandari obliged. Experts called the move unconstitutional as Oli has not resigned yet and his vote of confidence is pending in the parliament.

This move spurred strong reactions among opposition parties, the public, and the media. Nepali Congress, Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Center), Janata Samajbadi Party, CPN-UML held a meeting to discuss an impeachment motion against Bhandari. Similarly, Brihat Nagarik Andolan, a civil society movement which had taken place after the house was dissolved the first time, started again, protesting against Oli and Bhandari’s unconstitutional move.

Furthermore, on May 23, Kantipur published a cartoon of Oli wearing a crown and President Bidya Devi Bhandari in his coat pocket. Later that afternoon, Oli expressed his discontent with the cartoon at a press conference in Baluwatar, saying that monarchy is a ‘dead institution’ and portraying him like that is a misuse of freedom given by democracy.

Conclusively, although the invalid oath of office and secrecy didn’t completely reveal the partnership between Oli and Bhandari, the attempt to create a new government by bypassing the parliamentary process did. The reactions against this move from parties, public, and media were necessary to prevent such events from occurring in the future.

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