Nepal Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli’s loss of a trust vote in Parliament on Monday comes at a particularly crucial time. The second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic has not only ravaged India but has also begun to affect its landlocked neighbour Nepal, leaving citizens reeling under oxygen shortages, spikes in the daily case load, and fatalities. Political instability is the last thing Nepal needs now, but the trust vote did little to resolve the issue of who will take over the role of leading the government. Mr. Oli won just 93 votes in the 271-strong House of Representatives where only 232 turned up to vote, with 124 voting against him and 15 members staying neutral. The leading party in the Opposition, the Nepali Congress (NC) led by Sher Bahadur Deuba, with 61 members voted against Mr. Oli along with the Pushpa Kumar Dahal-led Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist-Centre) with 49 votes. The Maoists had just recently de-merged from the Nepal Communist Party after a Supreme Court ruling de-recognised its merger with Mr. Oli’s Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist). Mr. Oli could not command the full support of his own party as the 28 legislator-strong Madhav Kumar Nepal-Jhalanath Khanal-led faction within the UML decided to remain absent from the House. Mr. Nepal had taken up the cudgels against Mr. Oli in the unified NCP along with Mr. Dahal, and had opposed Mr. Oli’s decision to dissolve Parliament — a move which was also struck down by the Supreme Court.
Even more intriguing was the vertical split in another Opposition party, the Janata Samajwadi Party-Nepal (JSP) — the 15-member Baburam Bhattarai-Upendra Yadav faction voted against Mr. Oli while the 15-member Mahantha Thakur-Rajendra Mahato-led group decided to stay neutral. While Mr. Bhattarai and Mr. Yadav have taken a clear ideological position in line with their stated goal of a federally restructured Nepali state favourable to the plain-dwelling Madhesis — something that Mr. Oli had steadfastly opposed — the other faction is inclined to support Mr. Oli in order to wrest concessions for the Madhesis. The net effect of the trust vote was a loss of face for Prime Minister Oli, and yet it is not clear if an alternative government can be formed by the Opposition as things stand. Mr. Deuba enjoys support from the Maoists and the Bhattarai-Yadav faction of the JSP but it remains to be seen whether the Nepal-Khanal faction will decide to resign from Parliament to enable a victory for the NC. Nepal’s political class has been, more often than not, caught up in political tugs of war with frequent changes in regimes despite the people reposing their faith in democratic institutions through two “jan andolans” — the first removing absolute monarchy, and the second enabling a constitutional republic. At least now, when Nepal faces the onslaught of the novel coronavirus, the polity must rise to the occasion and work towards an alternative stable regime.