In a controversial move, President Bidhya Devi Bhandari decided to dissolve the lower house of the Nepal Parliament on Friday for the second time in five months and announced midterm elections on November 12 and 19, following a prolonged political stalemate. Both Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli and the opposition leader Sher Bahadur Deuba of the Nepali Congress separately staked claims of support from the majority of the lawmakers in the Assembly, but the President deemed that both claims were insufficient.
Mr. Oli had lost a trust vote in the Assembly on May 10, garnering the support of only 93 of the 232 legislators, but Mr. Deuba also could not form a government under his leadership after failing to secure enough support, leaving Mr. Oli to be reappointed on May 13. The vertical division within the Janbadi Samajwadi Party with the Mahanta Thakur-Rajendra Mahato-led faction unwilling to support the opposition alliance of the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist-Center) put paid to Mr. Deuba’s hopes. Mr. Oli had 30 days to prove majority support, but this was not forthcoming because of the lack of support from the Madhav Nepal-Jhalanath Khanal led faction within his own Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist).
Mr. Oli had on Thursday, asked the President to invoke Article 76 (5) which allows the President to appoint a member with majority support of the House through representation. However, the clause clearly specifies that this is possible only if the prime minister goes through a trust vote (Article 76 (3)) and Mr. Oli’s ploy to seek the President’s invocation of Article 76(5) raised the opposition’s hackles. Mr. Deuba had also presented the signature of 149 lawmakers avowing support to his candidacy. Mr. Oli claimed the support of 153 lawmakers by securing signatures of the parliamentary party leaders of the UML (himself) and Mr. Thakur (of the JSP), while not representing the fact that 16 members of the JSP led by the Baburam Bhattarai-Upendra Yadav faction had supported Mr. Deuba’s candidacy and also hiding the fact that he did not enjoy the support of the Nepal-Khanal faction.
But the president acquiesced with the prime minister’s request to invoke Article 76(5) and gave parties time till 5 pm on Friday to form the new government. Later, by midnight following opposition uproar, the President suddenly decided to dissolve the House, citing a recommendation by the cabinet.
Nepal’s political drama has occurred at the same time when the country faces the impact of a major COVID19 wave. Critics have said that the inability of Mr Oli to lead a stable government is among the reasons why the response to the pandemic has been inadequate. With the decision to dissolve the House, the President repeated the act of December 20, 2020. A constitutional bench of the Supreme Court had reinstated the House in its decision on February 21 but things got further complicated when the merger of the UML and the CPN(Maoist) into the ruling Nepal Communist Party was declared void by another judgement by the Court.
Using the latter decision to his advantage, Mr. Oli managed to retain power despite losing the trust vote as the dissident voices in his party were not keen on resignation, the most feasible way for the opposition candidate Mr. Deuba to win majority support.
The 32-member strong JSP emerged as the kingmaker and even though senior leader Baburam Bhattarai proposed a national unity government under the leadership of the Nepali Congress with support from the UCPN(Maoist) and the dissident faction of the UML, the rupturing of the JSP itself into two factions prevented this possibility. Mr. Bhattarai alleged that the Indian embassy played a role in this rupture by asking Madhesi leaders to extend support to Mr. Oli. Former PM, Madhav Nepal of the UML also made a similar allegation - “India is extending naked support to PM Oli and this is contributing to growing unpopularity of India,” he said.
“President Bhandari should have called the opposition block to prove their majority in the parliament. Instead she allowed PM Oli to remain in power in an unconstitutional manner without adequate support”, he added.
With elections scheduled for six months later, Mr. Oli will remain the de facto ruler even if in a caretaker position, despite losing the support of the House.