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Obstacles, confusion galore over the election of new Nepali PM

Obstacles, confusion galore over the election of new Nepali PM

The Supreme Court’s much-awaited Feb 23 verdict not only reinstated the dissolved federal parliament but also paved way for the filing of a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli. That motion was registered at the parliament secretariat on December 20, just hours after the House dissolution.

But those planning Oli’s ouster are undecided over his successor as well as potential ruling coalition partners.

Many Tweeples have launched polls over likely new prime minister on the micro-blogging site following the Supreme Court verdict. Such polls feature common options: Oli, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Sher Bahadur Deuba, Madhav Nepal and Baburam Bhattarai.

Two-time former Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal was proposed as the new prime minister in the no-confidence motion registered by the dissident faction of the ruling Nepal Communist Party. But Dahal has since said time and again he will not become prime minister and that he is open about choosing another candidate for the top job.  

“We [the NCP’s Dahal-Nepal faction] have been projected as power hungry and fighting only for the prime minister’s chair,” Dahal said while addressing a rally in Kathmandu earlier this month. “We [Dahal and Nepal] are not fighting for the chair and we won’t be the prime minister even if the parliament is reinstated.”

Following the court verdict Dahal reiterated his openness to discussing a new PM pick.

Sources in the NCP’s Dahal-Nepal faction say the faction is thinking of revising the no-confidence motion lodged with the parliament secretariat in order to change the name of the proposed prime minister, even as an alternative candidate is yet to be decided.   

Who’s in the race?

Neither of the NCP splinter factions can claim government leadership without the support of the main opposition, Nepali Congress, which will now have the decisive role in government formation. But the jury is still out on whether NC will support an NCP faction or itself claim government leadership.

Observers say Congress Party President Sher Bahadur Deuba is certain to stake his claim by taking advantage of the rivalry between the two feuding NCP factions. In order to remove PM Oli, the Dahal-Nepal faction could offer premiership to Congress, but then Oli could do the same in order to checkmate the Dahal-Nepal faction.

Congress leaders say Deuba will be an unopposed prime minister candidate if the party decides to lead the government with the support of one or the other NCP faction. Congress parliamentary party has already elected Deuba as its leader and changing his stronghold in the parliamentary party won’t be easy. 

Yet many party leaders seem to be against the idea of NC joining the government. Senior leader Shekhar Koirala has said that Congress shouldn’t lead or join any government with under two years to go for the constitutionally-mandated general elections. Koirala, who is eying the party's leadership in the upcoming general convention, slated for August-end, also said NC should prepare for polls from the opposition, as befits its electoral mandate.  

Congress senior leader Ram Chandra Paudel and Krishna Prasad Sitaula, another influential leader, have both warned Deuba not to get greedy, and refrain especially from allying with Oli.

Although many NC leaders say they would support the Dahal-Nepal faction by staying out of the government, Deuba may find it hard to resist if Oli offers him the prime ministerial berth; Deuba has in recent times been close to Oli. The incumbent prime minister has already indicated he would favor Congress to lead the government. Addressing a public function in Kathmandu a day after the House reinstatement verdict, Oli said the Dahal-Nepal faction ‘wouldn’t get anything’ in the changed context. Some analysts interpreted Oli’s statement to mean that he had already hammered a deal with Deuba.  

“Most senior Congress leaders are against the idea of joining any government. Yet the party president may ultimately prevail,” says political analyst Krishna Khanal. “This despite the fact that the Supreme Court verdict was also a moral defeat for Deuba who wanted to go to elections as per Oli’s plan.”

Many twists and turns

There are three alternatives to elect a new government. First, the prime minister may ask for a chance to prove his majority in the House. But according to Oli’s confidants, he is unlikely to pursue this course.

Second, the House could press ahead with the old no-confidence motion against Oli. If the motion is endorsed, the alternative candidate proposed mentioned in the motion will be elected the new head of government.

But the constitution is unclear about what happens if the prime minister resigns prior to the House voting.

Says Ram Narayan Bidari, a legal expert and lawmaker of the NCP Dahal-Nepal faction, “If the prime minister resigns, the post will be vacant and appointment of a new prime minister will commence as per section 1 of Article 76 of the constitution.”

According to this Article, the country’s President can appoint as prime minister the parliamentary party leader of the party with a majority in the House. Following the de facto NCP split, the current NCP parliamentary party leader, KP Oli, will fall short of the 138 votes that will give him the majority in the 275-member lower house.

In such a case President Bidya Bhandari, who has openly sided with Oli in the past, will be reluctant to recognize the NCP, which is yet to undergo a de jure split, as a single party.

Oli as parliamentary party leader can suspend NCP lawmakers involved in registering the no-confidence motion against him. But that will mean little as the final authority to approve the suspensions is with the House speaker. Disputes between Oli and Speaker Agni Sapkota, who represents the Dahal-Nepal faction, could escalate if Oli insists on taking action against dissenting NCP lawmakers.

“In the worst case, the House could be obstructed by the lawmakers representing the prime minister,” says an Oli-faction leader.

On the other hand, the Dahal-Nepal faction plans on changing the NCP parliamentary party leader. In fact, it has already settled on Dahal for the post.

“The court verdict has stopped a grievous violation of the constitution yet it has not ended the political deadlock,” says analyst Khanal. “We are now in a pre-December 20 situation, with the dispute between the two NCP factions still deadlocked.”

According to Khanal, ideally, Prime Minister Oli should resign on moral grounds, which could also ease the process of electing a new prime minister.

“If Oli is reluctant to go, the Dahal-Nepal faction can remove him as parliamentary party leader with the support of majority lawmakers in the party, if they have such support,” Khanal told ApEx.

Congress, the kingmaker

Now all eyes are on Congress with its 63 seats in the federal lower house. Dissident faction leaders Dahal and Nepal have already visited NC President Deuba’s residence soliciting support for the formation of a new government.

But according to analyst Khanal, technically, the Dahal-Nepal faction would be the natural first choice to lead the government given its position in the parliament. “Going by their claims and media reports, they have a majority in parliamentary party to elect a new parliamentary party leader. As of now, they will also be the largest party if the NCP splits. This means the President can appoint its leader as new prime minister,” Khanal says.

But he says the chances of PM Oli formally splitting the party through an ordinance are higher. According to current laws, a political party can be split only with the support of 40 percent of its lawmakers as well as 40 percent of its central committee members.

Thus the question of who becomes the next prime minister will be clear only when the NCP row settles one way or the other.