May Analysis: Domestic Politics

Table: Timeline of major political events in May

DateMajor Events
May 2PM Oli decides to seek a vote of confidence in the parliament; President Bhandari summons the HoR on May 10.
May 4CPN–Maoist Centre withdraws its support to the Oli-led government;
Opposition Nepali Congress decides to vote against Oli; President Bhandari endorses seven ordinances, including the controversial Constitutional Council ordinance.
May 10PM Oli loses the vote of confidence; President Bhandari gives the opposition coalition until May 13, 9 PM, to present their claim for alternative government.
May 13Oli gets reappointed as the PM, under Article 76.3 of the constitution, after the opposition parties failed to form an alternative government under Article 76.2.
May 20Independent candidate Khim Lal Devkota defeats Ram Bahadur Thapa in Bagmati’s National Assembly election;
President Bhandari invokes Article 76.5 of the constitution and gives lawmakers a 21 hours ultimatum to present a claim for government formation.
May 21President Bhandari dissolves the federal parliament and calls for mid-term elections on November 12 and 19.
May 24146 lawmakers—from NC, JSP, Maoist Centre, Rashtriya Janamorcha, and Khanal–Nepal faction—filed a joint petition in the Supreme Court demanding the parliament’s restoration and Deuba’s appointment as the PM.
May 29PM Oli-led government issues national budget for the FY 2078/79 BS, through an ordinance.

Despite new constitutional provisions[1] that aim to prevent premature parliamentary dissolution like in the past, within a short period of less than six months, Nepal has witnessed the dissolution of the House of Representatives (HoR) twice. While the Supreme Court had reinstated PM Oli’s first HoR dissolution on February 23 by calling his December 20 move unconstitutional, his second attempt to do so is sub judice in the SC. Given Oli’s gradual takeover of the democratic and state mechanisms, including the Supreme Court, there is little hope for the House reinstatement despite solid proofs and arguments that the PM and the president colluded to prematurely dissolve the House. A number of controversial ordinances issued by PM Oli to forward his political interests and consolidate his power only substantiate this doubt, raising questions about Oli’s intent to truly hold elections or about their fairness—if the House is not reinstated. The opposition Nepali Congress even accused the Oli government of unveiling a populist budget in a bid to attract voters and influence the election. Besides, the Covid-19 crisis is yet another cause of concern.

Apart from the uncertainty over Nepal’s overall democracy, the recent political events have caused a drastic polarization and realignment of the major political actors. First, a protracted internal conflict within the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) led to its split into the erstwhile CPN–UML and CPN–Maoist Centre. When CPN–MC withdrew its support to Oli’s government, some prominent leaders of the party, including Ram Bahadur Thapa, Lekh Raj Bhatta, and Top Bahadur Raymajhi, decided to align with Oli. On the other hand, NCP’s split disrupted the Dahal–Nepal faction, when Madhav Nepal’s group was forced to return to the CPN–UML. Weakened by the SC’s decision that led to the party split, the Khanal–Nepal faction appeared willing to negotiate with Oli and sort out their differences internally if Oli agreed to take the party to its pre-merger state. However, Oli’s reluctance to compromise ended up further agitating the Khanal–Nepal group, which has now virtually split and joined the opposition coalition with Nepali Congress (NC), Maoist Centre, a faction of the Janata Samajwadi Party (JSP), and Rashtriya Janamorcha. The JSP, too, has not endured the impact of Oli’s political circus. While one faction, led by Upendra Yadav and Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, has joined the anti-Oli coalition, the other, led by Mahant Thakur and Rajendra Mahato, is about to join the Oli government after its demands are met. It is only a matter of time until the two factions split, almost along the lines of Samajwadi Party (SP) and Rashtriya Janata Party (RJP). In fact, Dr. Bhattarai has already urged the leaders to part ways.

If the pandemic allows and the elections do happen under impartial circumstances, like PM Oli claims, the recent political realignments and polarizations will have interesting consequences. While the NCP’s split and some ex-Maoist leaders’ alignment with Oli may prove costly for Dahal, CPN–UML’s split will likely cause more harm to Oli. The Khanal–Nepal faction consists of several prominent leaders—such as Jhala Nath Khanal, Madhav Nepal, Ghana Shyam Bhusal, Amrit Bohara, Mukunda Neupane, Surendra Pandey, and Bhim Rawal—who have long been associated with the party and have a strong grip over the party structures till the lower levels. If they break away from the CPN–UML and establish a new party, they will split a significant portion of the party’s voters, hurting Oli’s electoral base. This time, Oli will not be able to reap benefit from his populist anti-Madhes and anti-India narratives; while his government’s recent links to India’s backing and a coalition with JSP’s Thakur–Mahato faction must have upset his nationalist electorate, there is also a growing dissatisfaction and anger against his government for its Covid-19 mismanagement.

An inevitable split of the Madhes-based JSP will also have significant effect. If the Thakur–Mahato faction successfully solicitates Oli’s submission and get their long-due demands fulfilled, they will advertise the ‘success’ in their electoral slogans. The Yadav–Bhattarai led party, on the other hand, will find itself competing against Thakur and Mahato to win Madhesi votes. In the process, they will likely smear each other’s images, thus splitting the votes, which will benefit the other parties. As it stands, Nepali Congress will reap most of the benefits. Despite the party’s internal tussle for leadership at the top-level, a united Nepali Congress will profit from the Communist party’s and JSP’s split. Having said that, Nepali politics is prone to seeing unholy and unnatural alliances and mergers during/around elections, solely for political gains, which may yield surprising consequences.

[1] Article 76.5 of the 2015 Constitution provides an additional means to form a government before dissolving the House of Representatives.

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