It has been a few months since the Himalayan state of Nepal, landlocked between northern India and the Tibet Autonomous Region of China, has been witnessing an internal power tussle within the ruling Nepal Communist Party.
Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, on December 20, managed to get the President’s nod to dissolve the 275-member lower house of the Parliament, triggering spontaneous protests in all major cities, including capital Kathmandu. The move has also invited strong criticism from the Opposition and constituents of the ruling coalition.
The lower house, or the Pratinidhi Sabha as it is called, was expected to serve for a term of five years. With its dissolution, the President has called for fresh elections in a two-phased manner to be held next year in April-May.
‘Undemocratic’, ‘constitutional coup’
However, there are no provisions in the 2015-adopted Constitution of Nepal for a Prime Minister to dismiss a functioning Parliament. Politicians across the parties have called the move as undemocratic, with the Opposition stating that the decision amounted to a constitutional coup.
Meanwhile, taking the judicial route, three writ petitions were filed in the Supreme Court of Nepal on December 20 itself, the date of dissolution of the Parliament, with more petitions on the way.
Oli’s troubles with India
Earlier this year, Nepal was accused of acting on the behest of China, particularly with regard to its special relationship with India. Diplomatic ties with India had hit an all-time low in 2020 when the long-frozen Kalapani dispute was resurrected by Kathmandu, which was accused by many analysts as merely a cover-up used by PM Oli against his government’s failure to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic at home and the economy left in tatters.
Prime Minister Oli, belonging to the Nepal Communist Party (NCP), spearheaded a radically unprecedented campaign against the giant South Asian neighbour bordering Nepal on three sides by exhibiting unwanted assertiveness, in the border areas, perceivedly inspired by Beijing.
The Oli government had even released a new political map showing the disputed Kalapani-Lipulekh region as part of Nepal, which has been seen traditionally as India’s hold. Simultaneously, he built closer military and economic ties with Beijing. Notably, China’s Defence Minister General Wei Fenghe visited Nepal in November, this year.
PM Oli’s new belligerent stance against India was largely criticised by his political challengers such as Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’, the former Prime Minister and previously leader of the Maoist-Centre faction of the Communist Party of Nepal which merged with Oli’s Unified Marxist–Leninist faction in 2018.
Tensions between the two warring factions were increasingly visible since May, this year, and took a drastic turn after Parliament passed the new map of Nepal in June.
Senior leaders within the party also expressed their displeasure with Oli’s unilateral policies, including with regard to ministerial and diplomatic appointments, complaining that they were not duly consulted by the Prime Minister before.
Despite all this, PM Oli continued to up the ante by openly accusing India of hatching plots to topple his government, pushing Nepal into totally unwanted troubles with India.
Heading to a possible split
Following the dissolution of the Parliament, seven ministers in the government close to Prachanda announced their resignation. PM Oli came to power three years back, in 2017, after winning the very first elections held after the new democratic Constitution was adopted.
Earlier this year, Oli’s attempts to promulgate key ordinances through the party were also foiled by the rival faction, causing deadlocks in the functioning of the government. As things turn out, the Nepal Communist Party might be heading towards another possible split and a new race for power.