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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2963

Survival Mantra For Prime Minister Oli?

By Rattan Saldi - Syndicate Features

Nepal is staring at political instability. Top leaders of the ruling Nepal Communist Party, NCP, are locked in serious infighting even as the country is struggling to handle the ‘corona’ outbreak. The question doing the rounds is how soon curtains would come down on Oli era. Will he survive the budget session of Parliament that has just opened?

There is no magic wand yet in sight to wish away Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli’s troubles which are political and personal as well. He has hoped to survive by engineering defections in smaller parties or by splitting the ruling party itself. The ploy did not work, and he had to roll back the ordinance on party splits within four days of its promulgation.

The charges hurled at him range from inefficiency to autocracy. His handling of Covid–19 pandemic is dubbed as inept. Yet another allegation is that he takes decisions without consulting the 9-member Party Secretariat or the 44-member Standing Committee of the Party. Oli is not known to heed the advice of his doctors, though he is not pink of health. He underwent his second kidney transplant recently.

The 68-year-old leader has compounded his difficulties by seeking to marginalize party’s co-chairman Prachanda right from the word go. The likes of Madhav Kumar Nepal, Bamdev Gautam, Jhala Nath Khanal and R. K. Mainali – all stalwarts, did not like his style of functioning. And with voices of dissent becoming louder with every passing day, corona weapon - social distancing - has come to find a place in the NCP lexicon too.

The master strategist has turned to Chankya doctrines to bounce back. He tried to create rift in the ranks of his detractors. He offered olive branch to some fence sitters. Luck deserted him both in the Party Secretariat and the Standing Committee. Result: his camp is said to have been reduced to a minority in the 174 member NCP. When it was formed as a post - 2017 election phenomenon, Oli’s CPN UML was the big brother with 121 seats; Prachanda’s CPN (Maoist) was no more than a junior partner with 53 seats in the 275-member Lower House of Parliament.

On April 20, Prime Minister Oli promulgated two ordinances to ward off threats without keeping the party Secretariat or the Standing Committee in the loop. One Ordinance amended the Political Parties Act to ease the grounds for a split, while the second ordinance enabled the Constitutional Council to take decisions even in the absence of Leader of the Opposition.

The new law on party splits is no more than a brute attempt to break the Madhes dominated parties. Because it says a party is deemed to have split if so decided by 40 percent members in the Central Committee or Parliamentary Party. The mandatory 40 percent requirement in both the bodies has thus been done away with. Luck disappointed Oli again. Even before he could engineer a split, the Samajwadi party and the Rashtriya Janata Party Nepal (with 17 members each in Parliament) have merged to become the Janata Samajwadi Party Nepal. Since one RJPN lawmaker is presently in jail on murder charges, the effective strength of the new party is 33 in the House.

It is possible that the new split doctrine is to facilitate a split in the ruling NCP itself. This perception is gaining acceptability. On its part PM Camp is getting ready to face a situation where Oli is expelled as co-chairman or forced to resign. In either case, he hopes to survive by banking on the new 40 per cent norm. Clearly, the ruling camp thinks that it does not have forty percent support in both the party fora as required under the old rule.

Oli gambit expectedly invited the wrath of the entire political spectrum, not merely from the NCP veterans and dissidents. Prachanda, Madhav, and four other NCP veterans tried to scuttle the promulgation of the ordinances but failed as President Bidya Devi Bhandari approved the new laws even as they were putting their act together.

Next their demand was an emergency meeting of the Standing Committee with ‘leadership change’ as an item on the agenda. Dissidents also demanded an urgent meeting of the Secretariat and called for Oli’s scalp. Sensing the mood, the Prime Minister got the two new ordinances repealed on 24 April. This he did after going through the motions of consultations with Prachanda, Madhav Nepal, and other leaders besides the Chief Justice of Nepal.
Five days later, on 29 April, Prime Minister Oli convened a meeting of the Secretariat. Majority of the leaders, who took the floor reportedly asked him to step down. To their surprise, he was ready and willing to go but after the Corona crisis is over. “Once the Covid-19 crisis is over, I will step down; but from this forum, I would like to propose Bamdev (Gautam) as the next Prime Minister and (Madhav) Nepal as party Chair,” he declared with a wry smile.

Veteran Communist leader Radha Krishan Mainali has termed Oli offer as a “ploy to prolong his stay in office”; others think that Oli is trying to hoodwink dissidents. For valid reasons.

Bamdev Gautam is not a law maker. He was defeated in the 2017 elections. So he cannot become Prime Minister under the Nepal Constitution. He can enter Parliament by getting into the Upper House. But constitution stipulates that Prime Minister be from the Lower House only. To enable Oli plan to work, the constitution will have to be amended, which is a tedious process. Moreover, NCP does not have clear two-third majority in Parliament to push through any such amendment.

Thus Bamdev Gautam loses the race. Well, he can enter Lower House of Parliament by contesting a by-election. This possibility is also on the table. But first there must be a by-election. And it can happen only if a vacancy is created. For this a ruling party lawmaker must resign. All ifs with no time frame. Result Advantage Oli once again. He stays.

What about Madhav Nepal? Party chair to him means he becomes the third co-chairman of the NCP, after Oli and Prachanda. It is an option he must weigh very carefully since the NCP is not yet a homogenous party. The situation is pregnant with multiple possibilities under the spectre of trust deficit among the seniors. One thing is clear as of now. There is going to be no dull moment on the political theatre.

Outside forces appear to have become quite active on and off the scene. During the last few days, the Chinese Ambassador in Kathmandu reportedly met top NCP leaders and discussed the political scenario. He had a meeting with President Bidya Devi Bhandari. Chinese President Xi Jinping also spoke to her over the telephone from Beijing. So is there any new Dragon shadow in the works? We will know soon.

Stay Safe, Stay at Home, Stay Informed, But Don't Forget to Wash Your Hands.

- Asian Tribune -

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