January Analysis: Domestic Politics and Governance

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In the front of domestic politics, the differences among the coalition parties regarding the announcement of general elections date was surfaced this month. Different factions cite the differing provisions on the Constitution and Local Election Act to conduct the local level elections. The Deuba camp of Congress, Maoist Centre, and CPN (Unified Socialist) cite a provision in the constitution which would allow them to postpone elections by eight to twelve months whereas main opposition CPN-UML and Shekhar Koirala faction of the Nepali Congress wants the elections to occur promptly by May this year as the local election laws mandate.

Timeline of major events

DateEvents
January 2A Central Committee meeting of the Maoist Centre, which took place after the party’s eighth general convention, elected Pushpa Kamal Dahal as the party chair.
January 3Seats for the National Assembly members were divided among five parties of the ruling coalition.
January 8Sher Bahadur Deuba visited KP Oli’s residence in order to request him to halt parliamentary obstructions and allow the House to function.
January 18The ruling alliance held a meeting in order to discuss elections, deciding to give priority to constitutional provisions rather than Election Commission’s laws to decide the date for local elections.
January 19 and 20Pushpa Kamal Dahal, in several media interviews, said that federal elections should be held in April-May and local polls should be postponed to October/November.
January 23The ruling alliance held a consultation with legal and constitutional experts to discuss dates for upcoming elections.
January 23The Deuba government decided to amend the Local Governance Act to make it align with constitutional provisions.
January 26National Assembly elections took place and Upper House members were elected.

Ongoing discussions for upcoming local elections dates and party interests

Context

Section 3 of the Local Level Elections Act and Article 225 of the constitution of Nepal have conflicting rules regarding fixing dates for the upcoming local level elections. As per the former, local elections should be held by May this year, before the mandates of the local bodies expire. Since the Local Level Elections Act’s rules don’t not align with the constitutional provision, which the ruling alliance argues gives a leeway of six months to hold elections, the Deuba faction of Nepali Congress has proposed to amend the Act in order to make it align with the constitution.

CPN (Unified Socialist) and Maoist Centre are in agreement with this decision. However, doing so is likely to push the elections past the April-May deadline and postpone elections by eight to twelve months, and CPN-UML, the main opposition party, and Shekhar Koirala faction of the Nepali Congress objects to postponement of elections. However, the Deuba faction argued that constitutional provisions should be given priority over the Local Level Elections Act.

Analysis

The last local level elections took place in three phases on May 14, June 28, and September 18 of the year 2017. Article 215 (6) of the constitution mandates that terms of elected officials (chairman, vice-chairman, and ward chair-man) would be five years from the date of elections. Conversely, Section 3 of the Local Level Elections Act mandates that elections should be held within two months before the local bodies’ terms and mandates expire (which is on March 19). This would mean that officials elected in the June and September terms of 2017 elections would not be able to complete their five years. This may be a possible reason why certain parties would want elections to be delayed.

Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba. Photo: RSS

Critics of the Deuba government have argued that Deuba has fallen under the influence of Dahal and Nepal in order to delay the local level elections. It is likely that Deuba fears Dahal will join hands with CPN (UML) to “form a broader left” alliance if he does not concur, as this had happened before in 2017 after the local elections’ first phase. Although the Local Level Elections Act clearly states that elections should be held by May this year, Deuba government leaders have cited constitutional provisions which give a margin of six months to hold the elections.

In 2002, Deuba had attempted to hold elections after dissolving the House, but he was excised from his post by the then King Gyanendra. This led to local level elections not being able to take place. Critics of the Deuba government have pointed out this event in history and remarked that this should not take place again and elections should be held promptly and that interpreting constitutional provisions to delay elections in favour of party interests is an attack on the rule of law.

CPN (UML)’s continuation of house blockade and its implications

Context

On August 17, 2021, the UML had recommended that Speaker Agni Sapkota excise 14 of UML’s allegedly defective lawmakers from their posts, however, Sapkota refused to concur. Eventually, UML split into CPN (UML), and the new party registered on August 25, CPN (Unified Socialist). Since then, CPN (UML) has obstructed House proceedings claiming that Speaker Agni Sapkota conspired with the dissident UML members to split the party.

Consequently, the House has not been able to function effectively. Since the obstructions began, the House has only been able to endorse bills regarding the national budget.

Analysis

CPN-UML has been demanding that Agni Sapkota and Sher Bahadur Deuba should hold meetings with KP Oli to resolve their differences. The party argues that the constitution was misinterpreted when the ordinance to facilitate party splits was passed, and that the current government is illegitimate. The party has criticized the ruling coalition on improper handling of Nepal’s economy, foreign relations, the Covid-19 outbreak, the MCC, among other issues and remarked that the three organs of the state are not functioning properly. Furthermore, the opposition party remarked that the ruling alliance hasn’t allowed the parliamentary practice to allow the main opposition to lead the Public Accounts Committee (PAC). On the other hand, the ruling coalition blames CPN (UML) for curtailing House functions through obstructions.

The first session of the reinstated House convened on March 7, 2021. Although 50 bills were pending, the House didn’t endorse any bills for 44 days. It is the first time in Nepal’s history that a House session ended without endorsing any bills.

It is possible that CPN-UML is attempting to prove that the House is irrelevant in order to legitimize Oli’s dissolution moves of the House on December 20, 2020, and May 21, 2021 which were both overturned by the Supreme Court; Oli was eventually removed as prime minister.

In any case, CPN-UML’s obstruction of parliament and demanding in person meetings with the prime minister seem to be contradictory moves from CPN-UML. A party adhering to democratic standards should be willing to resolve conflict through legal measures rather than causing obstructions to governance. However, CPN-UML argues that it is to protest against (perceived) injustice from speaker Agni Sapkota.

National assembly elections

Context

National Assembly (upper house) elections took place on January 26. The ruling alliance won 18 National Assembly member positions in seven provinces while the main opposition party, CPN-UML, won one seat in Province 1. The elected candidates’ list is attached here.

Analysis

UML had won the 2017 elections in conjunction with Maoist Centre, securing majority seats in the National Assembly; however, it will now shift into having minority seats as a result of the party split into CPN (UML) and CPN (Unified Socialist).

The last National Assembly elections took place in June 2018. Four-year terms of the incumbent upper house members will expire on March 4 this year. 2,225 voters in the Electoral College elected the National Assembly members. Provincial assembly members, the mayor, and deputy mayor of local units in provinces make up the Electoral College.

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