A second chance for Nepal’s young democracy

An all-party consensus government seems the only way to break the deadlock and ensure stability

April 13, 2021 12:02 am | Updated 12:02 am IST

It can be said that the only constant in Nepali politics is ‘unpredictability’. Nepal’s democratic transition has been shaped through the efforts and sacrifices of common citizens and leaders and the expectation was that the forgotten Nepali would soon get something better than the discriminatory political culture that started way back in 2015 with the new Constitution and selective political manoeuvrings.

While it was time to deepen the footprints of the key institutions of democracy, Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli succeeded in making himself a bigger institution than the Constitution and Parliament. It was never possible for Mr. Oli to grow beyond a permissible stature in a functional democracy without misinterpreted nationalism, vulnerable Presidential, federal system and flawed decision-making processes.

Supported by the President Bidya Devi Bhandari, which was a surprise, Mr. Oli briskly dissolved the Lower House of the federal Parliament on December 20, 2020, which only undermined the democratic spirit and dampened the prospects of stability and equitable growth in the country even further. Even when the Supreme Court reinstated the dissolved Parliament on February 23, 2021 and disputed the legal status of Nepal Communist Party (a merged entity of Communist Party of Nepal-ML and Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist Centre), Mr. Oli continues to survive in the new age of Nepali politics where accountability is seldom seen as a virtue.

The obsession with the positioning of India and China, more so with the abolition of the monarchy, has been a survival game in Nepali politics. The tendency to raise the bogey of the “hostile” neighbour has weakened politics and has failed the idea of representing constituent interests. It would be helpful to reckon the present round of serious institutional crisis as the culmination of an accountability-free political culture and the misunderstood institutional processes — where the successes or failures of decisions are attributed to outsiders — instead of opting for probity in public life and owning the outcomes.

Constitutional provisions

Among the key factors of the ongoing political stalemate in Nepal are certain rigid constitutional provisions that have made it possible for Mr. Oli to take cover behind a shield and continue, as getting into election phase or looking for the possibility of a caretaker coalition government is a very difficult proposition. Instead of incorporating the provision of a no-confidence motion in its true spirit as a multi-party democracy, Nepal gets an unusual clause (Article 100(4)) in its new Constitution that allows a no-confidence motion only two years after the formation of the government — and even this can happen only when one fourth of the total number of existing members of the House of Representatives may table a motion of no-confidence in writing that the House has no confidence in the Prime Minister. Article 100(5) is even more perplexing which necessitates the motion of no-confidence shall also indicate the name of a member proposed for the Prime Minister.

Overcoming such arduous challenges is surely very tough for the three leading parties (Nepali Congress, Maoist Centre and Janata Samajbadi Party) seen in the race to bring the Oli government down. Even to exercise the choice of a no-confidence motion, two parties of these three have to be on the same front for getting the magical number of 68 Parliamentarians. With no consensus or ethical obligations among the wary political parties, the hiatus is likely to sustain itself.

The three major parties opposing Mr. Oli’s continuance as the Prime Minister have 142 seats in Parliament, a number that is well sufficient to end the deadlock, enter into a post-Oli era and form a new government.

However, Mr. Oli has astutely managed to outwit his political opponents both within his party and the Opposition by playing on their differences . While the Nepali Congress is facing an endemic limitation with the decision-making process, its leadership has not shown any clear temptation to explore the possibility of playing any significant role in the ongoing crucial phase in Nepali politics.

The Baburam Bhattarai-led Janata Samajbadi Party was expected to be playing an active role in coalition experiments with the Maoist Centre, Nepali Congress and Madhes-based parties, however, no such action was noticed from this camp as well. Maoist Centre Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Baburam Bhattarai and former Co-Chair with Mr. Oli in the erstwhile Nepal Communist Party formed an informal alliance with Madhav Kumar Nepal as they both wanted Mr. Oli to be unseated in the wake of his decision to dissolve the House of Representatives on December 20 and demanded his resignation. Their demands were limited only to Mr. Oli’s resignation and were not oriented toward the building of an alternate front, which gave a much needed respite to Mr. Oli.

After the Supreme Court of Nepal reinstated Parliament in February this year, it came out with the next historic verdict on March 7 in which the top court had scrapped the legal status of the ruling Nepal Communist Party. This led to a formal division in the united communist alliance, besides ensuring a split in the Dahal-Nepal faction. Mr. Nepal, along with other UML leaders loyal to him, was left with no option but to return to the old party. Mr. Dahal had to revert to his old party, the Maoist Centre, even as four of its law makers defected to Mr. Oli’s UML. Mr. Dahal has also missed taking a political step, in playing safe.

A way out

The political muddle apart, this is no time for elections, especially with a second wave of COVID-19 infections. Nepal also stares at a lack of sufficient numbers of vaccines which has left the population vulnerable. Also, good governance cannot be ensured by a government that is caught up in survivalist compulsions.

The best way forward would be in giving democracy a good chance. For now, this can be made possible by the political parties alone. They have to aspire to ensure peace, progress and stability; the easiest option would be to work towards a consensus government with all the major parties joining hands and running it collectively.

Atul K. Thakur is a policy analyst and columnist

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