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Backtracking on Democracy

Nepalese Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli has displayed a willingness to prioritize his quest for power over Nepal’s democratic wellbeing.

By Taha Kehar | February 2021

Backtracking

Nepalese Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli's recommendation to dissolve the lower house of parliament and its swift acceptance by the president have plunged the landlocked nation into a constitutional crisis. If history is to serve as a gauge, rampant political instability in the nascent democracy was the order of the day before the 2015 constitution came into force. While the long years of civil warfare and a chequered transition to a federal democratic state are a distant memory, the dissolution of the House of Representatives may steer the country towards deeper malaise.

The move is believed to be an outcome of a factional disagreement within the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) over the withdrawal of an ordinance to alter the Constitutional Council Act. The issue steadily morphed into a crisis of leadership within the party, which is a coalition of Maoist and Marxist-Leninist groups led by the prime minister. As the NCP became a breeding ground for conflict, Oli stood the danger of being expelled as party chief and premier. If credible reports are anything to go by, the dissolution came at the cusp of a Standing Committee meeting wherein an investigation was going to be ordered against graft allegations levelled against him. These accusations have been made by Oli’s party co-chairperson Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda.

In addition, Oli faced criticism from his detractors who mounted a legal challenge against his decision to prematurely hold elections. Fuelled by the lack of cooperation within his own party and the opposition’s repeated attempts to drag his government into controversies, Oli decided to seek a fresh mandate.

In his address to the nation, Nepal’s premier denied that the dissolution was an abrupt move. On the contrary, Oli billed his decision as a sincere attempt to pursue a democratic alternative and avoid “unfair practices behind closed doors” to strike a compromise with the opposition. Even so, it is difficult to find a silver lining amid these developments. Insiders have asserted that Oli’s recommendation came as a surprise as he already agreed to withdraw the contentious ordinance that would allow the PM to make important appointments. As a result, the Nepalese premier’s rationale for the dissolution appears wholly unjustifiable. It is, therefore, difficult to view the dissolution of the lower house of parliament as anything other than an attempt by Oli to retain power and combat his growing unpopularity.

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