November Analysis: Domestic Politics & Governance

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The month of November saw the general convention of CPN UML, where K.P Sharma Oli was elected as party president. There also was an unopposed acquisition of political positions by Oli’s five lieutenants, and Oli’s mechanism for consolidation of power by attempting unopposed elections and silencing dissenting voices. To protest against Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher Rana, the justices refused to hear cases except for habeas corpus cases, which in turn impacted the judiciary’s integrity. Factionalism in the Nepali Congress, rivalry between Sher Bahadur Deuba, Bhim Rawal, and other leaders for party presidency, and possibility of party presidency elections going into a second round as in the 13th General Convention also transpired in the past month in the arena of domestic politics.

Timeline of Major Events

DateEvent
October 29CPN (Unified Socialist) chair Madhav Kumar Nepal said that the five party alliance will run in the upcoming elections as an alliance.
October 29Party leaders were urged to address the issue of justices not hearing any cases except for habeas corpus cases in order to demand resignation of Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher Rana.
October 30Maoist Centre chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal also said that the five party alliance must continue until the next elections, and he also proposed a merger between Maoist Centre and JSP.
November 16Four justices started hearing cases other than habeas corpus cases.
November 17The Nepal Bar Association gave Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher Rana an ultimatum to resign within 72 hours.
November 22The Nepal Bar Association urged political parties and House Speaker Agni Sapkota to take action against the Chief Justice.
November 29CPN-UML General Convention commenced.

CPN-UML’s General Convention and Oli’s Growing Authoritarianism

CPN-UML’s 10th General Convention commenced on November 29. Although chairperson Oli’s motive was to appoint all leadership positions and central committee members through consensus, restricting dissent and competition, he was challenged by Bhim Rawal’s candidacy to the party chairperson and few others’ candidacy to other party positions4. Oli’s selections were elected for senior vice-chair, vice-chairs, secretaries, general secretary, deputy general secretary, and majority Central committee members.

Oli won the position of CPN-UML party chairperson for the next five years with 1,837 votes, with his competitor Rawal getting 223 votes. The General Convention mirrored the Oli’s growing cult personality and its institutionalization within the party cadres, which was demonstrated by the open moves of Oli’s cadres to forcefully restrict Rawal’s campaign at the convention site.

Party leader KP Sharma Oli addressing the closed session of the 10th National General Convention of the Communist Party of Nepal (CPN-UML). Photo: RSS

Oli’s strong disregard to democratic practice, ideological discussions or political programs in the disguise of consensus politics to appoint party officials, and his desire to be appointed as the unchallenged party president, signals his authoritarian dynamics within the party. This was already seen in UML’s regional, district and local conventions, where within-party democratic norms were halted in the name of appointing leaderships and convention representatives through consensus, largely placing Oli favored personnel in the positions. This indicates Oli’s intentional move to have sole influence in the party from the grassroots.

Moreover, Oli’s intend was to prepare favorable grounds for the upcoming general election among the party cadres in this convention, whose morale has highly diminished given the party spilt reducing the size of UML from the largest party and overthrowing of UML led governments from center and provinces.

Clearly, Oli’s intention was to motivate the party cadres through the appointment of leadership positions by consensus and deliver the notion of unity and oneness for the upcoming election. However, Bhim Rawal’s fraction and other few had disagreement on Oli’s sole monopoly of appointing leadership positions and central committee members. Overall, 10th UML convention has been a step forward to consolidate Oli’s authoritarianism within the party dynamics, diverting party away from principle of collective leadership towards everything controlled by a single man, showing the signs of fascism.

Protest against Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher Rana and effects on judiciary

Supreme Court justices, Nepal Bar Association, lawyers, youth leaders etc. demanded the resignation of Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher Rana; at the time, justices refused to hear cases except for habeas corpus cases in protest. 18 Supreme Court justices, Nepal Bar Association, and lawyers appealed to impeach Rana. Rana sent two writ petitions to the Constitutional Court seeking stay of hearing of the writ petition against the ordinance of the Constitutional Council and the appointment as per the ordinance.

However, on November 16, four justices started hearing cases other than habeas corpus and refused to attend a meeting of the Nepal Bar Association and Supreme Court Bar Association who were protesting against Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher Rana. The next day, on November 17, Nepal Bar Association gave Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher Rana an ultimatum to resign within 72 hours. However, justices who were previously boycotting benches started attending them. Furthermore, A lottery system was put in place which will assign cases to justices. The chief justice previously used to prepare the cause list.

On November 22, Nepal Bar Association took further action and urged political parties in the federal parliament and House Speaker Agni Sapkota to take action against Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher Rana from office. However, Chief Justice Rana said that he is ready to face the constitutional process (which would result in an impeachment motion) rather than stepping down voluntarily. Furthermore, Nepali political parties haven’t shown interest in impeaching Rana.

Proper functioning of the judiciary has been affected by protests against the Chief Justice. The NBA and justices accused the Chief Justice of attempting to get his brother-in-law, Gajendra Hamal, who is not a member of parliament, into the Cabinet and delaying case hearings to constitutional bodies.

Although it’s not the executive’s job to interfere in the judiciary’s functioning, the judiciary should comply with regulations and not hamper its service seekers. Furthermore, this action disturbs the separation of powers. The judiciary’s integrity is also compromised.

Nepali Congress’ convention and growing fractions

Congress General Convention is to be held from 24 December. Owing to the upcoming battle for leadership, Nepali Congress is rife with factionalism. There are two major factions in Congress led by Sher Bahadur Deuba and Ram Chandra Poudel. Shashank, Shekhar, and Sujata of the Koirala family has not still come up with a common candidate and coalition among the three does not seem to be easy, as Shekhar and Sujata both are equally interested to run for party president.

Rivalry between PM Sher Bahadur Deuba and Congress Vice President Bimalendra Nidhi for party presidency is ongoing, along with Prakash Man Singh and Krishna Prasad Sitaula, and Shekhar Koirala who have also announced their candidacies.

Deuba is attempting to convince Nidhi to cancel his presidential bid. Congress leaders said that party presidency elections will go into a second round, as in the 13th General Convention.

Other parties

On Oct 29, CPN (Unified Socialist) chair Madhav Kumar Nepal said that the five-party alliance will run in the upcoming elections as an alliance. Similarly, on Oct 30, Maoist Centre chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal also said that the five-party alliance must continue until the next elections, and he also proposed a merger between Maoist Centre and JSP.

Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s Maoist Centre is currently a key coalition partner in the Deuba government. On November 8, a “coordination committee” was formed to support the Deuba government (an idea pitched by Dahal). Nepali Congress, Maoist Centre, CPN (Unified Socialist), Janata Samajbadi Party, and Rastriya Janamorcha will have two members each in the committee. Observers said that Dahal wants to maintain his relevance while out of power through the committee.

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