Oli’s gambit could result in instability

Oli’s gambit could result in instability

FILE PHOTO: Nepal's Prime Minster Sharma Oli attends the opening day of the International Labour Organization's annual labour conference in Geneva, Switzerland June 10, 2019. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo

The dissolution of Nepal’s parliament by President Bidya Devi Bhandari on the recommendation of Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli will plunge the country’s already unstable politics into an extended period of turmoil. The decision is unconstitutional. Nepal’s Constitution provides for dissolution of parliament before the end of its five-year term only if no party is able to form a government. That is not the case in Nepal today.

Oli has been facing a challenge to his leadership not from the opposition parties but from within his own party, the Nepal Communist Party (NCP). While the immediate trigger for the decision was an ordinance to amend the Constitutional Council Act, the crisis was building up for over a year. Oli’s authoritarian style of governance and refusal to share power with or consult other leaders in his party had resulted in a rift in the NCP with other leaders, including Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Madhav Nepal, who has now replaced Oli as party chief. Parliament has been dissolved and Oli will remain at the helm of an interim government till elections, which will be held in April-May. Meanwhile, Nepal’s Supreme Court will decide on the constitutionality of Oli’s decision to dissolve parliament.

The NCP, which was formed after Nepal’s two main communist parties came together only a couple of years ago, is expected to split now. Most NCP leaders and the rank and file are likely to back the Dahal faction of the party. In addition to the intra-NCP turmoil, unrest has erupted on the streets of Kathmandu and other cities. Oli’s political rivals in the NCP, leaders and activists of the opposition Nepali Congress and members of civil society are protesting Oli’s unilateral and unconstitutional decision and its endorsement by the President. The unrest and political upheaval will worsen Nepal’s current economic woes and its struggle to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic.

In addition to it being unconstitutional, Oli’s decision is worrying as it is not going to improve the situation in Nepal or pave the way for better governance under a new dispensation. The scheduled elections are unlikely to throw up a clear verdict, which means that Nepal could once again be faced with a flurry of unstable coalition governments in the coming years. Domestic instability will provide China with ample opportunity to meddle in government formation in Kathmandu. Such meddling by Beijing was in the first place how Nepal ended up here. China’s mounting influence in an unstable Nepal has huge implications for India. New Delhi must think how it can remain one step ahead in preserving its interests in Kathmandu.