July Analysis: Governance

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Looking back, one of Oli’s first actions as prime minister was to bring several departments including the Department of Revenue Investigation, Department of Money Laundering, and the National Intelligence Department under the Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers. He was adamant on centralizing his powers, which eventually led to his downfall.

1.     Timeline of events

July 1Lawyers said Article 76(5) gives president Bidya Devi Bhandari power to reject a bid towards prime ministerial power.
July 5The constitutional bench of the supreme court completed the hearing of the house dissolution case.
July 5Four amici curiae invited by the constitutional bench presented their briefs for and against Oli’s May 21 house dissolution move.
July 5The Supreme Court withdrew Oli’s May 21 house dissolution and ordered President Bidya Devi Bhandari to appoint Sher Bahadur Deuba as the new prime minister as per Article 76(5).
June 17The Constitutional Bench said that the Supreme Court should review unconstitutional actions taken by the president.
July 12The Supreme Court stated that the KP Oli government, as a caretaker government, cannot introduce a full budget.
July 16CPN-UML claimed that Sher Bahadur’s appointment as prime minister was against the multiparty system and undemocratic.
July 16A cabinet meeting cancelled Oli govt’s May 8’s 11 ambassadorial appointments citing unethical change in appointment criteria.
July 18Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba won the vote of confidence by receiving 165 out of the needed 136 votes in the 271 member lower house. 83 voted against and one remained neutral.
July 25President Bidya Devi Bhandari appointed Umesh Shrestha as state minister for health.
July 30Three writ petitions against 52 chairpersons and members in 12 constitutional commissions are sub judice. NHRC used this to defend appointments of its chairperson and four members.

2.     Analysis

It’s worthwhile to study Oli’s history as prime minister and why he was ousted in order to form a blueprint of how Sher Bahadur Deuba could avoid making the same mistakes. KP Sharma Oli became prime minister with a two-thirds parliamentary majority in 2018, right when his party, CPN UML merged with the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre). Furthermore, Oli was the first prime minister of a secular and federal democratic republic of Nepal appointed under the constitution of 2015.

Photo: RSS

One of Oli’s first actions as prime minister was to bring several departments including the Department of Revenue Investigation, Department of Money Laundering, and the National Intelligence Department under the Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers. By banning protests in Singha Durbar, passing anti freedom of speech and press bills, and minimizing freedom of expression, Oli pacified dissenting voices. Furthermore, he centralized power by transferring civil servants frequently and went against federalism. Oli also earned praise within Nepal for releasing a map showing Kalapani, Lipulekh, and Limpiyadhura as within Nepal, however, India saw this move negatively. As a result of authoritarian tendencies, Madhav Kumar Nepal and Pushpa Kamal Dahal started forming an alliance against Oli. When he had little options left, Oli dissolved the House two times within six months to remain in power while manipulating constitutional provisions. Culmination of all these events led to Oli’s eventual ouster as prime minister.

In the case of Sher Bahadur Deuba, this would be his fifth time as prime minister. As the new Prime Minister, he has responsibilities ranging from carrying out economic recovery, improving public health, managing foreign relations with India, China, and other neighbours, mitigating rivalries, overseeing foreign policy, and other duties which may not have been carried out well in the last three years. Furthermore, securing covid-19 vaccines would be an immediate task on his agenda. Steering clear of Oli’s authoritarian style of government is important if Deuba wishes to avoid the same errors.

The exact constitutional mechanism of Oli’s ouster and Deuba’s appointment as prime minister can be explained using several constitutional provisions.

One of these provisions, Article 76 (5) says: “In cases where the prime minister appointed under Clause (3) fails to obtain a vote of confidence under Clause (4) and any member under Clause (2) presents a ground on which he or she can obtain a vote of confidence in the House of Representatives, the President shall appoint such member the prime minister.”

Oli failed to obtain a vote of confidence, and Deuba showed that he had at least 149 members of the House voting for him from parties including Janata Samajbadi Party, Maoist Centre, Congress party, and Rastriya Janamorcha. Deuba laid claim to the role of prime minister by filing a petition to the Supreme Court, which at least 23 Nepal faction lawmakers supported. 149 votes were technically short of acquiring a confidence vote.

However, the supreme court ruled that, “Since Article 76 (5) of the constitution has the clause ‘if any member of the House presents a ground on which s/he can obtain a vote of confidence in the House’, and for that purpose, the claim with 149 members of the House (majority members) should be taken as a sufficient and appropriate basis. Therefore an order of mandamus has been issued in the name of the Office of the President and the reinstated House to appoint the member of the House who presented his claim for prime minister within two days from today (or by Tuesday 5pm) and complete the process of getting the vote of confidence as per Article 76 (6) of the constitution.”

Thus, on July 12, the Supreme Court canceled Oli’s house dissolution move and ordered the president to appoint Sher Bahadur Deuba as the prime minister.

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