The Nepal Supreme Court on Tuesday reinstated the dissolved House of Representatives and ordered the government to summon the House session within the next 13 days, dealing a setback to Prime Minister K P Oli on his 70th birthday.
Nepal plunged into a political crisis after President Bidhya Devi Bhandari had on December 20 dissolved the 275-member lower House and announced fresh elections on April 30 and May 10 at the recommendation of Oli, amidst a tussle for power within the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) between factions led by the Prime Minister and by Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ and Madhav Kumar Nepal.
On Tuesday, a five-member constitutional bench, headed by Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher Rana, in a unanimous judgement said that the provisions of the Constitution cited by Oli and Bhandari were not relevant as Nepal’s Constitution has made a special provision against the dissolution of Parliament mid-term without exhausting all options to forming an alternative government.
The bench, also consisting of Justices Tej Bahadur Karki, Bishwambar Shrestha, Anil Sinha and Sapana Pradhan Malla, also instructed Oli and Bhardari to convene the House within 13 days.
What next for Oli?
With a loss of face, Oli is left with limited options like proving majority in the House, or to stall efforts the NCP’s rival faction from taking leadership of the government. There are speculations that Oli may even support Sher Bahadur Deuba, leader of the main opposition Nepali Congress party and prop up a government on a power-sharing basis. However, this is an approach that could also be explored by the Prachanda-Nepal faction of the NCP.
Before the verdict was announced, there was heavy police deployment around the Supreme Court. Oli summoned the chiefs of security forces, including the Nepal Army chief, to assess the likely political response and resultant law-and-order situation in the face of his defeat.
Soon after the verdict, Prachanda called on the PM to resign. “If Oli has any bit of shame left, he must resign now,” he said.
Earlier in December, Oli, facing infighting from within the NCP, made the unilateral recommendation to dissolve the House to Bhandari, blaming his opponents within the Party of not cooperating with him or letting the government function smoothly.
He argued that going to the people for a fresh mandate is the biggest democratic exercise and said that he took the decision to dissolve the House as he enjoyed the inherent power as the leader of a majoritarian government.
The dissolution of the House sparked protests from a large faction of the ruling NCP led by Prachanda and Nepal. The move was immediately challenged in Supreme Court by 13 different petitioners, including the chief whip of the NCP.
In the last general elections, the NCP had won a nearly two-third majority. However, after Oli’s move to dissolve the House, the two factions – one led by Oli, and the other led by Prachanda and Nepal – have both been claiming to be the “real” NCP – an issue that the Election Commission is yet to settle.
While Oli continues to be the chairman of the NCP that unilaterally controls the government, the Prachanda-Nepal faction of the NCP has more MPs and enjoys a majority within the party’s central secretariat, steering committee and the central committee.