News Digest – Democracy & Governance (January 21 – January 27)

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Politics & Democracy

Nepal Communist Party (NCP) and the Government: PM Oli has been noted to make the use of “I,” “me,” and “myself” more frequent after dissolving the House of Representatives; observers claim that Oli is “so drunk on power” that he considers himself to be the state, just like the French king Louis XIV once did.

The Dahal-Nepal faction of the NCP held mass protests in Kathmandu on January 22, 2021, against PM Oli’s move of dissolving the parliament.

PM Oli has been on a spree of verbal attacks against ex-senior advocate, former chief justices, legal workers, journalists, former minister, experts, opponent leaders, and more; his use of indecent language and vocabulary has come under severe criticism of late. Legal experts claim that PM Oli has been making ‘a mockery of rule of law’ by attacking lawyers and judiciary.

In a rather controversial manner, Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali said that the government is opening up the old files at the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA); Gyawali was referring to the cases related to PM Oli’s political opponents.

PM Oli made severe and troublesome allegations against anyone criticizing his House dissolution move; he said that people who criticize the House dissolution are against ‘the constitution, democracy, the country and the people.’ He even called such people terrorists.

On January 25, 2021, PM Oli made a visit to the Pashupatinath Temple and performed pooja, which, observers claim, carries a political message: Oli has seemingly moved towards uprooting secularism and federalism and is, therefore, appealing to the people who want to see Nepal as a Hindu state. 

NCP’s deputy chief Bamdev Gautam said that he is willing to side with the faction (and work for party unity) that makes him party chief.

The Supreme Court: House Dissolution: President Bidya Devi Bhandari came under heavy criticism regarding her role in the House dissolution case; advocate Tikaram Bhattarai questioned the constitutionality of the president so quickly endorsing the cabinet’s recommendation to dissolve the parliament without any consultation or discussion.

After being questioned about a lack of government’s notice regarding its House dissolution move, Nepal Rajpatra—Nepal government’s official publication that notifies the public of its major decisions—produced a backdated notice on January 21, 2020.

Two separate applications against PM Oli, on charge of defaming law professionals and trying to influence the SC’s decision, have been registered in the Supreme Court. 

During a discussion at the constitutional bench, senior advocate Surendra Kumar Mahato cautioned against a possible scrapping of the 2015 constitution overall due to PM Oli’s House dissolution move, just like the 1992 constitution was when Deuba dissolved the HoR.  

The Opposition: After the party’s uncertainty on whether to protest PM Oli’s move or to wait for the Supreme Court’s verdict and favor elections, Nepali Congress (NC) is now confused whether to support Oli or Dahal-Nepal faction at the provincial level. Province 1 and Bagmati province’s Chief Ministers face vote of no-confidence, which means both the factions need NC’s support to lead the government.

Referring to the unfolding political uncertainty, NC leader Shashank Koirala argued that he does not see a possibility of holding elections in April-May.

While Deuba and Poudel remain adamant on their positions, Nepali Congress has declared its third phase of protests against House dissolution; the party will be demonstrating on February 1, 6, and 15, 2021.

The Janata Samajwadi Party Nepal (JSPN) also seems confused regarding its position on PM Oli’s house dissolution move; while Dr. Baburam Bhattarai and Upendra Yadav of the erstwhile Samajwadi Party want to protest against the move, Mahantha Thakur and Rajendra Mahato are welcoming of the new elections.

Miscellaneous: On January 24, 2021, the Election Commission ruled that the only party that it recognizes is the Nepal Communist Party. According to Section 44 of the Political Party Act, neither faction of the party can claim legitimacy anymore because the deadline to do so has passed. The Dahal-Nepal faction expressed its dissatisfaction with the EC’s refusal to recognize the split.

On January 25, 2021, the civil society organized a peaceful rally condemning PM Oli’s ‘unconstitutional’ move to dissolve the parliament. However, the government cracked down on the protestors with water cannon and force. Some civil society leaders even claimed that it was a beginning of the third people’s movement.

Corruption & Governance

The COVID-19 vaccine distribution: Nepal, on January 21, is set to receive one million doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca’s CoviShield coronavirus vaccines with grant assistance from India. People over age of 60, frontline workers, and first responders are to be vaccinated in the first phase of vaccination.

Later, the government announced that it will procure additional four million doses within a month through subsidised rates, under government-to-government deal, or direct procurement deals with India’s vaccine manufacturing companies.

A budget of Rs. 48 billion has been estimated to vaccinate 52% of Nepal’s 30 million population against coronavirus. Among this population, only 72% need to be vaccinated as existing vaccines are not tested on children up to 14 years of age. Nepal will rely on multilateral and bilateral donors. Multilateral donors are—World Bank and Asian Development Bank. Bilateral donors are—Swiss Agency for International Development, Department for International Development of the United Kingdom, and GIZ—an aid agency of Germany, Japan International Cooperation. World Health Organization’s COVAX facility will provide free vaccines for 20% of the population.

Provincial governments have received the first dose of COVID-19 vaccines. 95,000 doses meant for 14 districts of Province 1 reached the capital Biratnagar on Monday. The Ministry of Social Development of Province 1 said that vaccines have been dispatched to all 14 districts on Monday with plans to start vaccination on Wednesday. 35,576 people are planned to be vaccinated in the first phase. Similarly, 76,000 doses arrived in Hetauda, and there are plans to start vaccination on January 27. 10 to 20 health workers are to be deployed in each vaccination centre. 66,461 doses are to be administered in the first phase in Bagmati Province and the second dose after a month. Vaccines stored in Hetauda will be distributed to Makwanpur, Chitwan, Sindhuli in Bagmati province and Bara, Parsa, Rautahat, Sarlahi, Mahottari and Dhanusa districts of Province 2. Province 2 government said 33,600 health workers and 1,204 sanitation workers will be vaccinated in the first phase. 40,000 doses reached Pokhara on Sunday. They reached Syangja, Parbat, Baglung, and Myagdi on Monday. The Gandaki Province government chose 17,396 frontline workers to be vaccinated in the first phase. 88,690 doses reached Lumbini Province on Sunday. Lumbini Province is planning to vaccinate 39,495 people in the first phase starting Wednesday. 24,000 doses will reach Humla, Jumla, Mugu, and Dolpa via air from Nepalgunj. 35,170 doses to reach Dhangadhi on Monday. In Sudurpaschim, there are plans to vaccinate 1,600 people in the first phase.

Miscellaneous: Wildlife rescue operations are largely unsuccessful in Palpa as forest offices and security personnel lack tranquiliser guns and other equipment important for safe and fast rescue operations.

Although the District Administration Office of Darchula requested to stop an Indian embankment construction in Mahakali River in Khalanga, which has been going on since mid-December, India is still going on with the project. The Nepali side claims this to be an international border.

Staff, teachers, health workers, and other employees in Dhanusa rural municipality have been holding a protest outside the municipality office for the last 18 days since they haven’t received their salaries for the last six months.

53 health workers, including six doctors in Dolakha District Hospital in Jiri have been protesting for the past two months to be provided with COVID-19 risk allowances, but to no avail.

The Ministry of Education, on January 19, invited interested public schools to apply for grants from the School Education Improvement Programme, which would invest up to Rs. 2.5 million in one project; however, local governments irk the program as they didn’t get to decide which schools will receive the grants.

Kapilvastu Municipality distributed bicycles to twenty five girls pursuing higher education in various community schools in ward no. 2 of Kapilvastu.

As heritage conservationists criticised Kathmandu Metropolitan City for neglecting Kamal Pokhari, the Department of Archaeology is planning to inspect the restoration site.

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