On December 20, Nepalese Prime Minister K.P.Sharma Oli took an extraordinary step to put an end to debilitating factionalism in the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP).
He got his long-standing comrade-in-arms, the Nepalese President Bidhya Devi Bhandari, to dissolve Parliament, (the House of Representatives or HoR) and order elections to be held in April-May 2021.
According to his supporters, Oli had no other way to end the stalemate and get the government to function in a situation where COVID -19 is raging with more than 1800 deaths and 255, 000 infections.
As a political leader, Oli has personally gained in two ways by the action: Firstly, he has achieved a long-felt desire to split the NCP and go it alone with his loyalists. Secondly, he has got a chance to rule Nepal unfettered by internal opposition from the party Co-Chairman and former Maoist, Pushpa Kamal Dahal alias Prachanda.
But the million dollar question is: Is Oli going to have his way or is his present supremacy only a flash in the pan? What if the Supreme Court or the massive street demonstrations turn the tide against him?
The Supreme Court has ordered all the 12 writ petitions filed against the dissolution of the HoR to be placed before a constitutional bench. The dissolution of the House has united the entire opposition which includes the Center-Left Nepali Congress, the Samanwadi Janata Party (a party of the people of Indian origin in the plains of the Terai bordering India) and the Monarchists who are right wing Hindu communalists.
Side by side, the two factions of the NCP – namely Oli’s Communist Party of Nepal – Unified Marxist Leninist; and Prachanda’s Communist Party of Nepal - Maoist Center are struggling to secure official recognition as the ‘real’ NCP with the “Sun” symbol. The matter is before the Election Commission.
The Central Committee of the NCP has a total of 441 members, of which 241 are from Oli’s Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist–Leninist) and 200 from Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) led by Prachanda. But last Tuesday, a majority of the NCP Central Committee expelled Oli from the party chairmanship and elected senior leader Madhav Kumar Nepal, a former Prime Minister, in his place. On the rebound, the General Secretary of the NCP and Oli loyalist Bishnu Prasad Poudel declared that dissolution of the HoR will not be withdrawn and fresh elections will be held as scheduled.
Poudel said that the HoR could not function because Prachanda kept repeating baseless allegations against Oli and trying to oust him at any cost. “ Prime Minister Oli had clearly stated that he would hand over the party leadership at its next General Convention or the Special General Convention, but Prachanda would not listen. The two sides could not reach consensus despite having 77 rounds of meetings,” Poudel pointed out.
An Oli faction Standing Committee member Sankar Pokhrel complained that although the Oli regime had done numerous developmental works, party leaders themselves had been downplaying them and willfully undermining the government. Pokharel listed Oli’s achievements like importing electricity from India to end load shedding, entering a trade and transit agreement with China, constructing highways, airports and hospitals.
Oli and Prachanda had united their communist parties to form the NCP. The combined party won a two thirds majority in the general elections held in 2017. But within three years the coalition is in tatters, the people left leaderless and their hopes dashed.
According to veteran Nepalese commentator, Yubaraj Ghimire, though the two communist parties united formally, charting out the NCP’s political principles remained incomplete. Furthermore, Oli refused to honor an agreement with Prachanda to give the government leadership or Premiership to him in the second half of his tenure. Prachanda also complained that although he was one of the two Co-Chairmen of the Party, Oli did not give him any responsibility. Key official and diplomatic appointments were made without informing Prachanda.
Oli’s “megalomaniac’ actions included bringing all the investigating agencies of the state including the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence directly under him. This contributed to bringing his opponents together because he was using these agencies selectively against his internal and external rivals.
Two months ago, Prachanda, in consultation with senior leaders of the NCP, submitted a 19-page ‘political resolution’ that included, among other things, serious allegations of corruption against Oli. But Oli threatened to split the party if the allegations were not withdrawn. Earlier he had told Prachanda quite frankly that he would like to split the party peacefully.
Oli tried to rule by circumventing parliament and issuing Ordinances. One of them enabled regulatory institutions to take decisions by majority vote rather than by consensus. This was because consensus was difficult to reach in many cases. Another Ordinance was meant to water down rules for splitting parties. But that had to be withdrawn due to intense opposition as Olis intention was clear – to split the NCP more easily and strike out on one’s own.
In 2015 Oli had exacerbated relations with India over the constitution which, India felt, had discriminated against the people of Indian origin living in the Terai or plains region. This gave rise to an economic blockade organized by the Terai people which India tacitly supported incurring the wrath of the Nepali leaders who turned to China for succor. Oli entered into a Trade and Transit agreement with China.
The entry of the China, raised New Delhi’s hackles. Nepal’s internal politics, which traditionally, had only one external power (India) having a role, became more international with the entry of China. Nepal even joined China’s Belt and Road Initiative which New Delhi saw as a politico-economic intrusion into its backyard. To cap it all, the Chinese Ambassador Hou Yanqi had begun interceding in internal political conflicts so that the communists remained in power and safeguarded China’s growing interests in the country.
Therefore, India and China will be watching the on-going developments in Nepal very keenly. There is much at stake for both Asian giants in the Himalayan country.
These are the main reasons why there is a loud demand for the return of the monarchy, which was abolished by general consensus in 2008. Many people now think that monarchy was not all that bad. The Kings were a unifying force. They gave the people a sense of continuity and stability. In November there were massive demonstrations all over Nepal staged by Monarchists