House of confrontation
When the meeting of the House of Representatives commences on Sunday, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli and his faction of the Nepal Communist Party will try their best to make it look like business as usual.
The government’s priority, according to sources, will be presenting the ordinances in a semblance of providing business to the House and letting the House function as if everything is normal, unless the faction led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Madhav Kumar Nepal takes a drastic step.
Though the Dahal-Nepal faction wants to unseat Oli, it has yet to decide whether to file a no-confidence motion against him.
As per the preliminary business schedule published by the Parliament Secretariat on Saturday, the government will present as many as eight ordinances, including the one related to the amendment to the Constitutional Council (Functions, Duties and Procedures) Act-2010 issued on December 15.
Bishal Bhattarai, who was appointed the chief whip of the Nepal Communist Party by Oli on February 26 in place of Dev Gurung, told the Post that the government’s priority will be getting the ordinances through Parliament.
“All the ordinances will be presented before the House on the very first day,” said Bhattarai. “Getting them endorsed is the government’s top priority.”
The House meeting is commencing on Sunday after the Supreme Court on February 23 overturned Oli’s December 20 decision to dissolve the House. Oli, however, has refused to resign on moral grounds and has decided to face the House. He has even challenged his opponents to remove him if they can.
The Dahal-Nepal faction had registered a no-confidence motion against Oli on December 20, hours after the government recommendation to dissolve the House of Representatives was endorsed by President Bidya Devi Bhandari.
The Dahal-Nepal faction is unlikely to revive the same no-confidence motion, in which it had proposed Dahal as the next prime minister.
Officials at the Parliament Secretariat said they have not heard anything about a no-confidence motion.
“There is no information regarding any no-confidence motion from any side,” Gopal Nath Yogi, a secretary for the House of Representatives, told the Post.
The Nepali Congress’ silence has put the Dahal-Nepal faction in a fix. It is hesitant to file a no-confidence motion against Oli because it lacks the numbers to get it through Parliament.
The faction has been claiming that it has around 87 to 90 lawmakers on its side. Even then, without the support of the Congress party, which has 63 members (two suspended) in the House, its no-confidence motion will fall flat. In such a case, Oli will get a lease of life until March next year, as constitutional provisions don’t allow another no-confidence motion for one year.
Narayan Kaji Shrestha, spokesperson for the Nepal Communist Party (Dahal-Nepal faction), told the Post that they have yet to decide on tabling a no-confidence motion against Oli, as they are still in discussions with the Nepali Congress and Janta Samajbadi Party.
The Janata Samajabadi Party has 34 members (two suspended) in Parliament.
“Our first and foremost demand is Oli should resign. He has plunged into the minority inside the party since as many as 115 lawmakers are against him. Oli cannot remain prime minister morally also because the Supreme Court overturned his decision to dissolve the House,” said Shrestha.
“Second, he has lost the majority in the party as well. A majority of parliamentarians are against him. If he does not resign, then in consultation with the Nepali Congress and the Janata Samajbadi Party, a no-confidence motion will be registered.”
If the Dahal-Nepal faction indeed has 115 lawmakers on its side, as claimed by Shrestha, the Janata Samajbadi Party’s support will be sufficient to remove Oli.
In the 275-member House of Representatives, the magic number is 138.
The Janata Samajbadi Party, however, has already made it clear that for it to support Dahal-Nepal faction, it first needs to say whether it is a “formal party”.
The Nepal Communist Party, although it has split politically, legally continues to remain one, as the Election Commission has not given a verdict on the party legitimacy dispute.
The Janata Samajbadi Party wants concrete assurances also, if it were to support Dahal and Nepal, regarding its concerns—ranging from constitutional amendments to the release of its lawmaker Resham Chaudhary from jail.
The Congress party, which has held a series of internal meetings as well as talks with leaders from across the political spectrum, including Oli, Dahal and Nepal, has said that it would make a decision only after the Nepal Communist Party sees a formal split.
And even if it were to support the Dahal-Nepal faction, will it be just to give a leg up to Dahal?
Multiple Congress leaders have told the Post over the past few days that the party would be interested in leading the government, rather than just backing one side—Oli or the Dahal-Nepal-led faction. In that case, if the Dahal-Nepal faction files a no-confidence motion against Oli with the Congress party’s support, it should name Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba as the next prime minister.
Oli and Deuba too have been in touch for quite a while, but what understanding they have been discussing is not clear yet. One possibility is that Oli is seeking Congress party’s support in case he seeks a vote of confidence. But leaders have stopped short of saying what that deal entails. A likely scenario is that Oli survives with Congress support and in return, he lets Deuba lead the government—for at least a year until the elections in 2022.
Despite Deuba’s public statements that he is in no hurry to become prime minister, he has made it sufficiently clear that he is not averse to the idea.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is likely to pass a verdict soon on a case filed by Rishiram Kattel, who claims that Nepal Communist Party name belongs to him.
Kattel had registered the Nepal Communist Party with the Election Commission in 2013. When Oli and Dahal had approached the Election Commission in May 2018 after they announced the merger of their CPN-UML and CPN (Maoist Centre), the poll body had initially refused to register it saying that a party with the same name had already been registered. Oli and Dahal had then registered their Nepal Communist Party by adding Nekapa, or NCP, within brackets.
If the Supreme Court passes a verdict in favour of Kattel, thereby making the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) illegitimate, politics is likely to take a completely different course, with most making a prediction that the situation would return to the pre-May 2018 stage. That will mean two different parties—the UML and the Maoist Centre.
With Oli now having quite some former Maoists and the Dahal-Nepal faction having a number of former UML members, including leaders like Nepal, Jhala Nath Khanal, Yogesh Bhattarai and Ghanashyam Bhusal to name a few, more political complications are likely.
“The Nepal Communist Party has not split yet legally, so there is no question of supporting one or the other,” said Minendra Rijal, a Central Working Committee of the Nepali Congress. “First, we will see how Prime Minister Oli defends his unconstitutional move of dissolving the House when he appears before the reinstated House tomorrow. Oli faces a huge moral and political question.”
Asked if the Congress party would be interested in filing a no-confidence motion of its own against Oli, with the support of the Dahal-Nepal faction, Rijal said the party has not thought along these lines yet.
“Such decisions are not taken overnight,” Rijal told the Post.
While the Dahal-Nepal faction is claiming to have around 115 parliamentarians on its side, a similar claim is being made by the Oli faction—that it has even more parliamentarians with it.
The Dahal-Nepal faction held a meeting of its Parliamentary Party on Friday, where it claimed that around 115 parliamentarians—from the House of Representatives and the National Assembly—were present. The Oli faction held a meeting of its Parliamentary Party on Saturday. It also claimed that around 115 parliamentarians were present—from the House of Representatives and the National Assembly in total.
Neither faction has divulged the number of lawmakers from the lower house present in their meetings. When it comes to no-confidence motion and electing a new prime minister, lawmakers from the lower house matter, not those from the upper house.
Multiple leaders from the Dahal-Nepal faction said that they do want to unseat Oli and that a no-confidence motion against him is the only way but they admitted that they have not taken any decision to that effect yet.
Bhusal, a lawmaker from the Dahal-Nepal faction, said there is a lot of confusion regarding the filing of a no-confidence motion due to the party’s legal status.
“The Nepali Congress also has a problem supporting us unless the party is legally divided,” said Bhusal. “I don’t think the no-confidence motion could be registered on Sunday.”
With both factions led by Oli as well as Dahal and Nepal in a bid to prove their majority—not by actions but just by words, Sunday’s House meeting could see confrontation, some observers say.
After being politically split, the party’s lawmakers are likely to be split physically also when the House meeting commences, as the Dahal-Nepal faction, which is acting like an “opposition”, is likely to choose to sit on the other side of the aisle. But technically, lawmakers from the Dahal-Nepal faction are also part of the ruling party as of now.
Some leaders from the Dahal-Nepal faction have hinted that they would try to stop Oli from entering the House, as he was the one who had “killed” it, only to be saved by the Supreme Court.
“We are discussing this issue well,” said Bhim Rawal, a lawmaker from the Dahal-Nepal faction. “We will make a decision by Sunday morning.” But how moral that move would be is a question and that apart, there are several issues that would make it too difficult for the House Speaker, according to people with good knowledge of parliamentary affairs.
Som Bahadur Thapa, a former secretary at the Parliament Secretariat, said had the Election Commission taken a decision on the Nepal Communist Party legitimacy row, things would have been much easier in the House. “Sunday is going to be a tough day for the Speaker to ensure the House functions smoothly and decently,” Thapa told the Post. Speaker Agni Sapkota already faces accusations that he has been siding with the Dahal-Nepal faction. Sapkota was elected House Speaker in January last year after a weeks-long tug-of-war between Oli and Dahal.
Sapkota had made his reservations public about Oli’s House dissolution, calling it an unconstitutional move. He had even held consultations with some parties regarding calling the House meeting even as the case was pending at the Supreme Court.
Taranath Ranabhat, a former Speaker of the House, said the Dahal-Nepal faction too has a moral question before it, as it has already sacked Oli as the leader of the Parliamentary Party and elected Dahal as the Parliamentary Party leader.
In a parliamentary system, the leader of the Parliamentary Party of the party that commands a majority is chosen for the prime minister’s post.
“Oli will go to the House to prove his legitimacy, while the Dahal-Nepal faction will try to oppose his move,” Ranabhat told the Post. “Confrontation is inevitable. The only question is whether it is limited to verbal or goes beyond.”
Tika R Pradhan contributed reporting.