Unstable Politics Jolts Nepal More Than Earthquakes
On July 24, 2016, after spending 287 days in Singha Durbar (Lion’s Palace), the seat of Nepal’s government as Prime Minister, KP Sharma Oli resigned from his post minutes before the Parliament was to vote on a no-confidence motion he was likely to lose. Consequently, on July 25, 2016, President Bidya Devi Bhandari asked the political parties to elect a new Prime Minister and form a government on the basis of political consensus within seven days.
Earlier, on July 22, 2016, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Chairperson of the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist Centre (CPN-Maoist Centre) and also a major coalition partner with 82 seats in the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML)-led coalition government, tabled a no-confidence motion in Parliament against Prime Minister Oli. Bimalendra Nidhi, a central-level leader of the Nepali Congress (NC), the largest opposition party with 206 seats, seconded the no-confidence motion tabled by Dahal. The Parliament also rejected three key Bills – the Finance Bill, the Bill to Raise Domestic Debt and the Loan and Guarantee Bill – tabled by the incumbent government right before Dahal tabled the no-confidence motion against the incumbent Prime Minister. Speaker Onsari Gharti Magar allotted three days for debate on the no-confidence motion and the motion was to be put to vote on July 24, 2016.
Prior to this, on July 12, 2016, CPN-Maoist Center withdrew its support from the incumbent government saying that the CPN-UML was reluctant to implement the gentlemen’s agreement and the nine-point agreement made with it on May 5, 2016. In a letter addressed to the Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, CPN-Maoist Centre Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal said:
“Our party saw the need for national consensus to implement the new statute, complete the remaining tasks of peace process along with the transitional justice, resolve the issues raised by Madhesis, Janajatis and Tharus, and provide relief to the people and carry out reconstruction of the country in the wake of the last year’s devastating earthquake. And the spirit of nine-point agreement that the Maoist party and CPN-UML forged in May was also national consensus. But, as the leadership of the existing government was not ready to implement the nine-point agreement and the three-point gentlemen’s agreement, it would be politically inappropriate for our party to remain in this government. Thus, we withdraw our support from this government now.”
According to the gentleman’s agreement reached between Dahal and Oli, the latter would let Dahal take over government’s reins after the tabling of the fiscal budget. And, the nine-point agreement provided blanket amnesty for human rights abusers over the decade-long Maoist insurgency in order to save the Maoist leaders from being implicated in war crimes. But, when Oli refused to step down even after the passage of the budget, the Maoists had no option but to rethink their support.
Expectedly, a day after the CPN-Maoist Center withdrew its support to CPN-UML-led government, the main opposition party NC, during its Central Working Committee meeting held at the Nuptse Hall in the Parliament building on July 13, 2016, decided to lend support to Dahal as the new Prime Minister. The meeting also endorsed a seven-point agreement that the party President, Sher Bahadur Deuba, forged with CPN-Maoist Center Chairman Dahal to build a new coalition Government. As per an understanding between the two leaders, Dahal would lead the coalition Government for now, and Deuba would later succeed him after 10 months.
Remarkably, the NC, CPN-Maoist Center and CPN (United) on July 13, 2016, registered a vote of no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Oli at the Parliament. The motion signed by CPN-Maoist Center Chairman Dahal, on behalf of 284 Member of Parliaments (MPs) out of 598 MPs in the Parliament, stated that they registered the motion after Prime Minister Oli did not clear the way to form the new Government even after the Oli-led Government was turned into a minority one. Consequently, Speaker Onsari Gharti Magar on July 15, 2016, postponed Parliament meeting till July 21, 2016, so as to first allow a debate on no-confidence motion moved by the NC and CPN-Maoist Center.
Separately, seeking support for passing no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Oli and taking part in the new government, both the NC and the CPN-Maoist Center leaders had approached the agitating parties of United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF). Finally, on July 13, 2016, following a joint request from NC President Sher Bahadur Deuba and CPN-Maoist Center Chairman Dahal, 19 MPs from the UDMF signed on the no-confidence motion. On the same day, Federal Alliance, an alliance of 30 ethnic and Madhesi parties formed on July 31, 2015, said that it will also help the NC and CPN-Maoist Centre to unseat the CPN-UML-led coalition Government. There are about four dozen lawmakers in the Federal Alliance.
Meanwhile, a meeting of the ruling parties, Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal (RPP-N), Madhesi People’s Right Forum-Democratic (MPRF-D), Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) and some other smaller parties, held in Kathmandu on July 17, 2016, decided not to allow a discussion on the no-confidence motion on July 21 without allowing a debate on the three budget related bills first. Further, Prime Minister Oli on July 19, 2016, urged Speaker Onsari Gharti Magar to allow a debate on the three budget related bills before the discussion over the no-confidence motion takes place at the Parliament.
Consequently, as a part of a last ditch effort to forge consensus among the parties, Speaker Magar held a meeting with Prime Minister Oli, Dahal and NC President Sher Bahadur at the office of the Speaker in Singha Durbar, Kathmandu on July 21, 2016. Remarkably, breaking the week-long stalemate, the major parties including the CPN-UML, NC and CPN-Maoist Centre on July 22, 2016, agreed to discuss and endorse three pending bills related to the annual budget before discussions on the no-confidence vote. The major parties were at odds over what to put first – a no-confidence motion filed against the incumbent government or three budget bills – in discussion at the Parliament. While the CPN-UML had wanted to discuss the budget bills first before facing the no-confidence vote filed against the Government, the NC and the CPN-Maoist Center said the no-confidence motion should be discussed and put to vote first before any other business.
In fact, since the restoration of parliamentary democracy in 1990, unstable politics, frequent ruptures of political parties and the all-too-frequent change of government have plagued Nepal which has seen 23 government changes in 26 years. Although, a government has the mandate to rule for five years and thus bring long-term plans and policies, in Nepal the average age of government is a year at most, which means half baked plans, ill-executed policies, and way too many changes in government working styles.
Caught in the struggle between power hungry politicians and a highly unstable democratic system, the Nepalese youth feel trapped and helpless. Nepal has been in a state of political crisis for many years, but people were hopeful that it would eventually sort itself out and there would be some political stability and economic growth.