The good news is that the Oli government has withdrawn the two controversial ordinances it had introduced four days ago on Monday. The two ‘surprise’ ordinances - one to amend the Political Party Act so as to ease splits in political parties and the other to amend the Constitutional Council Act in order to allow the Constitutional Council to conduct meetings even in the absence of the main opposition leader – have been withdrawn. Following a Cabinet decision on Friday, President Bidya Bhandari announced the repeal of the ordinances as swiftly as she had certified them within a couple of hours of receiving them from the government.
With this, a ‘political virus’ which was produced with the aim of infecting the country’s already unhealthy politics has been neutralized effectively, thanks to the widespread criticism and pressure from all quarters, including politicians from even the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP). Needless to say, this political virus was much more dangerous than the novel coronavirus which not only Nepal but the entire world is fighting at the moment.
Though the curtain has been drawn on a stupid political drama, the whole episode has raised questions on the roles, responsibilities and intent of not only Mr Prime Minister but also Madam President. This is a time when we as a nation are supposed to be focusing all our efforts and measures on preventing and controlling the COVID-19 pandemic but, now we know, that the head of the Nepal government and the head of the Nepali state – both have different priorities. That they are insensitive toward the citizens’ lives. That they are yet to rise above petty power games. That they tried to plant divisiveness at a time when unity should have been the norm. That they do not understand their national responsibilities even at a time when the country is reeling under challenging times created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The latest political developments have raised suspicions that Prime Minister Oli and President Bhandari could have been acting in collusion and that the president’s high office may have become just an extended arm of the executive. Otherwise the President’s Office would have taken into consideration the need, urgency and, most importantly, the content and timing of the two ordinances before certifying them, perhaps even without studying them properly.
These suspicions are worrying, given the fact that the president has courted controversy several times in the past for her inability to rise above partisan interests. One example is, not very long ago, the top leadership of the ruling NCP had asked the supposedly neutral and impartial President Bhandari for her advice to resolve the ruling party’s internal disputes as if she were still a ruling party member. Also, President Bhandari’s act of conducting a meeting with some ruling party leaders at Sheetal Niwas with the aim of resolving intra-party feuds a few months ago is an indication that she could have been working at the behest of the ruling party.
The whole episode has harmed the image of Prime Minister Oli as well. If the rumors surrounding the issuance of the two ordinances are anything to go by then PM Oli, who is also a chairman of the ruling party, either wanted to split his own party and alienate the other Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal or he wanted to see a split in the Madhes-based parties – the erstwhile Rastriya Janata Party Nepal (RJPN) and the Samajbadi Party Nepal (SPN) - by amending the Political Party Act. Similarly, he wanted to diminish the role of the leader of the main opposition, Sher Bahadur Deuba, by amending the Constitutional Council Act.
However, the ‘scheming prime minister’ has failed on both fronts. While the RJPN and SPN announced their unification within hours of the issuance of the ordinance to amend the Political Party Act, the PM’s attempt to sideline the main opposition leader in the Constitutional Council, too, has fallen flat.
The whole episode has a lesson or two for both the Prime Minister and the President. Prime Minister Oli has been accused of failing to run the show effectively despite having a near two-thirds majority in parliament. Therefore, instead of scheming against other parties, he needs to do the unthinkable and focus on his own job. And right now his main job is to effectively lead Nepal’s battle against the coronavirus. Similarly, President Bhandari needs to internalize the fact that she is the patron of the constitution and that she has to rise above all partisan interests.