Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli has survived numerous attempts to pull down his government during the 38 months that he has been on the saddle. In Nepal, which, on average, has had a new prime minister every 13 months over the last 30 years, this is a record-setting feat. The last prime minister to have held onto power for longer was in 1991-94; Girija Prasad Koirala of the Nepali Congress was in the hot seat for 42 months.
But PM Oli has achieved little else. He has often spoken about how his rivals led by former prime ministers Pushpa Kumar Dahal and Madhav Kumar Nepal have hobbled his administration, blaming them for putting politics over national interest.
In December last, a full-blown rebellion by his detractors finally led PM Oli to pull the plug on the legislature and hold fresh elections but his order was reversed by the Himalayan nation’s top court which ruled on February 23 that PM Oli’s decision to dissolve Nepal’s Parliament was unconstitutional.
On March 9, Nepal’s Supreme Court also ordered on another petition that the name of the ruling party, Nepal Communist Party, formed by the merger of two Left parties in 2018 was unlawful. The verdict led to the split of the NCP, Nepal’s ruling party of ex-Maoist rebels and fellow communists that was formed in 2018 by a merger between PM Oli’s Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist, or CPN-UML, and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) led by former rebel leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal known by his nom de guerre, Prachanda.
This split or the ‘demerger’ due to the verdict weakened the alliance between PM Oli’s two key rivals, Madhav Kumar Nepal and Dahal, since Madhav Nepal ended up in the CPN-UML and was eventually suspended on April 9 over accusations of being involved in anti-party activities.
The split, which led to the communists and Maoists returning to their original status as separate parties, was a huge setback to Dahal who was aspiring to lead the erstwhile NCP, and eventually, the country. Dahal’s party has been engaging with other political parties to come up with an alternative government with help from the opposition Nepali Congress and the Janata Samajwadi Party Nepal, or JSPN, which is a combination of the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Rashtriya Janata Party (RJP). Dahal is even learnt to have offered the post of prime minister to the NC or the JSPN. But the Nepali Congress hasn’t picked the bait yet due to a trust deficit with the Maoist party chief.
PM Oli is learnt to have had some success to neutralise Dahal’s overtures to the JSPN, offering to resolve the traditional demands of the party which represents the interests of the Madhesi and the marginalised communities. This includes the release of detained Madhesi and Tharu leaders who had participated in agitation challenging the government against the 2015 constitution. PM Oli is also learnt to be looking at their other demands which include an immediate grant of citizenship to those marrying Nepali citizens instead of the existing rule that allows grant of citizenship in such cases after seven years.
Neither PM Oli nor Dahal have been able to seal an arrangement with the potential partners, and Nepal’s politics continues to be fluid. In the meantime, the political rivalry at the top is trickling down to the provincial and district levels where attempts are being made to evict rivals from provincial governments. In two of Nepal’s seven provinces, Pushpa Dahal and Madhav Nepal have, with some help from lawmakers from the Nepali Congress and JSPN, tried to bring down governments aligned with PM Oli’s camp.
On Monday, PM Oli prorogued parliament’s session to preempt Dahal and Madhav Nepal, who along with Nepali Congress leaders Deuba and Baburam Bhattarai were expected to move a no-confidence motion against the Oli government.
But Nepal watchers concede that PM Oli’s survival tactics do not hold any hope for the country even if they serve him well. The best course of action for PM Oli to end the power struggle is to go for early elections. This would, it is argued, would enable parties across the spectrum to take a firm decision on their alliances which could face the electoral test and give the country a stable government.