News Digest: Domestic Politics (May 20-26, 2021)

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National Assembly Election

Violating the election code of conduct, PM Oli appealed for votes in favor of his aide Ram Bahadur Thapa Badal during the silence period mandated by the Election Commission; Badal ran against the opposition parties’ candidate Khim Lal Devkota. Devkota was nominated, for National Assembly candidate from Bagmati, by Oli’s rival faction led by Khanal and Nepal.

Education minister Krishna Gopal Shrestha also violated the code of conduct and appealed for vote in Thapa’ favor.

‘Independent’ candidate Khim Lal Devkota won the NA election from Bagmati held on May 20, 2021. He defeated CPN–UML’s candidate Thapa by securing 5088 election points against the latter’s 4014.

CPN–UML: PM Oli and President Bhandari

On May 20, PM Oli made a surprising and unconstitutional recommendation to president Bhandari and requested her to initiate Article 76(5) of the Constitution; the article stipulates that the president can invoke it and appoint any lawmaker who can present substantial claim that they can get a vote of confidence in the parliament. Opposition parties, expert and political observers claim that the PM’s recommendation and the president’s approval are unconstitutional because PM Oli neither sought confidence in the parliament—a mandatory provision under Article 76(4)—nor resigned before the final government formation article was invoked. 

Around midnight on May 21, president Bhandari dissolved the federal parliament and called for mid-term elections on November 12 and 19. The president had given lawmakers 21 hours, until 5 PM on May 21, to present their claim for prime minister. After intense negotiations among the opposition parties, including CPN–UML’s Khanal–Nepal faction, the alliance presented a claim for alternative government under NC Sher Bahadur Deuba’s leadership. Although they presented signatures of 149 lawmakers, PM Oli himself also claimed to be appointed the PM under Article 76(5); presenting signatures from Janata Samajwadi Party‘s president Mahant Thakur and leader Rajendra Mahato and his own, Oli claimed to have the support of 153 lawmakers of the two parties. The president’s final decision was based on her assessment that neither side could present valid claims, as there were several overlapping signatures.

On May 23, president Bhandari promulgated Citizenship Ordinance that directly addresses Articles 11(3) and 11(5) of the Constitution and allows citizenship by descent to the children of Nepali Citizens by birth and to those whose father cannot be traced; the move has been criticized by a section of political community and civil society for being motivated by Oli’s personal and political gains.
In an interview, Madhav Nepal expressed that his faction has decided to start a new party.

Janata Samajwadi Party (JSP)

After giving PM Oli a lifeline, JSP’s Thakur–Mahato faction appeared positive about joining the Oli-led government. While the faction’s readiness rests on Oli’s responsiveness to its demands, observers anticipate an eventual split of the party, as the polarization continues to deepen. JSP’s majority meeting sought clarification from four leaders—Mahant Thakur, Rajendra Mahato, Sarwendra Nath Sukla, and Laxman Lal Karna—for acting against the party’s decisions. The four leaders decided not to present any clarification.

The Judicialization of Nepali Politics

A constitutional bench led by Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher JaBaRa scrapped the (re)appointment of seven ministers who were appointed by PM Oli on May 14. The seven ministers had defected from the Maoist Centre and had joined CPN–UML, therefore losing their party membership and lawmakers’ positions. The SC called the reappointment unconstitutional.

Issuing a joint statement on may 22, five political parties decided to contest the PM’s and president’s unconstitutional moves legally and politically. They decided to register the case in the Supreme Court and present all 149 signatures.

On May 24, 2021, 146 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. General hearing on 19 of the 30 cases is set on begin on May 27, whereas those to be decided by a constitutional bench will begin on May 28.

Governance & Corruption

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 have called the move unconstitutional as Oli has not resigned yet and his vote of confidence is pending in the parliament.

Nepali Congress, Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Center), Janata Samajbadi Party, CPN-UML held a meeting to discuss an impeachment motion against President Bidhya Devi Bhandari after she obliged to Oli’s request to call on the formation of a new government by bypassing parliamentary process.

Brihat Nagarik Andolan, a civil society movement which had taken place after the house was dissolved the first time, has started again, this time protesting against Oli and Bhandari’s unconstitutional attempt to form a new government by bypassing the due parliamentary process.

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.

On May 23, President Bidya Devi Bhandari promulgated the Nepali Citizenship (first amendment) Ordinance 2021, which addresses issuing citizenship to someone through their Nepal mother if their father’s whereabouts are unknown. The bill to amend the Nepal Citizenship Act-2006 had been pending since August 7, 2018.

On December 20, after Oli dissolved the house for the first time, online news media reported that Justices Hari Krishna Kari and Sapana Pradhan Malla met the prime minister on January 10, and Justices Dipak Kumar Karki and Mira Khadka met Oli the next evening. On January 15, the Supreme court issued a statement denying these claims.

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