It is necessary for all of us who want this constitution to function and who care about this country to shout out that the Prime Minister is wrong.
K P Sharma Oli, Nepal’s Prime Minister, trusted by people to safeguard constitution and uphold constitutionalism, is pushing the country to the risks of prolonged uncertainty, unraveling of the 2015 constitution and ending all prospects of stability.
Oli had frustrated people with bad governance and his insatiable hubris but I had never imagined he would push the country and the system to the precipice which could potentially cut short the life of the constitution he had himself helped bring to life in 2015.
Oli has shattered the faith of people who voted for his party, who cheered him for taking steps to expand trade and connectivity beyond the northern boundary, and who lauded him for standing up to the 2015 blockade. The scale of horror the ‘Sunday afternoon massacre’ of December 20 is so huge, so blatantly unconstitutional and so damaging that everything else pales in comparison.
What is deeply worrying is that we don’t know what he has up his sleeve.
That Nepal Communist Party was a divided house had become clear right few months after he took office. This was expected. The two parties—Maoist Center and CPN-UML—which merged into NCP were rooted in different ideological orientations and, thus, internal differences were predictable. Besides, the person with whom he joined his neck—Pushpa Kamal Dahal—had already had a track record of being unreliable in alliance. So the two—Oli and Dahal—would remain in friendly terms was a matter of doubt from the very beginning.
Perhaps to placate the people, Oli addressed the nation a day after he took the unconstitutional move. But he was far from convincing. He blamed Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Madhav Kumar Nepal for pulling his leg. Pushpa Kamal Dahal, he indicated, came in every step of the way and did not allow him to work. He may be right about Dahal, for he was eying the PM’s post for himself but his accusation that entire party faction—except his coterie—stood against him is not convincing enough. As a matter of fact, he had alienated and angered not only Dahal faction but also Nepal faction and many other members from former UML party with whom he could have forged a rapprochement more easily.
Besides, even if entire NCP bloc—of course except his faction—had repudiated him, he could make last ditch efforts to save the parliament by forging alliance with, for example, Nepali Congress. But he set in fire the house which made him what he is today.
People are yet to emerge from the state of shock which Oli gave on Sunday. The scale of damage is too big to ignore.
Worst brings out the worst
First, the election scheduled for April and May is least likely primarily for two reasons. First, there is a case against dissolution of House of Representatives in the Supreme Court. Unless the Court endorses the dissolution, the prospect of election will still be remote. Then there is Covid-19. The election proposed for April and May will then have to be rescheduled for, say, August or September or even later.
If the Court declares that House dissolution is unconstitutional (who knows the Supreme Court has had the precedent of reversing what is constitutional as unconstitutional and vice-versa), then main opposition Nepali Congress and Madhav Nepal-Pushpa Kamal Dahal faction will unite to overthrow Oli and probably even impeach the president. As the government to succeed will also be the one to conduct the general elections for 2022, Oli will not let go hold of power easily but other parties will not let him hold onto power either. Politics will take uglier turn.
What if the Supreme Court gives the stamp of approval? Oli's position will be vindicated, he will use power and resources of the country to settle a score with his opponents and enrich his loyalists at the cost of the state coffers. There is a little chance that he will use the time he gets as a caretaker prime minister for salvaging his image and delivery.
He will then have set a precedent for future prime ministers to dissolve the House if the House fails to satisfy their ego. The government instability that will follow will be as bad as or worse than the one which we saw during the 1990s and between 2007 and 2015.
The collateral damage will be huge on other fronts too.
One reason the global community had started to listen to Nepal in recent years was that they knew that the government of Nepal is stable. With perennial instability they will look for short-term gains rather than taking up long-term engagements. To be honest, compared to other fronts, this government had done better on foreign policy. Relations were improving with India and Indian establishment was giving the indication that it is ready to negotiate with Nepal on border matters.
What will happen to these issues and other pressing geopolitical challenges?
Moment of truth
Sometimes, we fail to see issues in larger context. What looks like a great betrayal now may be justified by history in course of time. Oli will be judged favorably by history only if the future proves that he was in the right side. Otherwise, he will forever be stigmatized, like Girija Prasad Koirala has been stigmatized for sowing the seeds of instability by dissolving the parliament to avenge his rival faction in Nepali Congress in 1994, like Sher Bahadur Deuba remains stigmatized for dissolving the parliament to avenge his rival faction in 2002.
PM Oli is averse to wise counsel. He never listened to Nepal’s well-meaning intelligentsia and nor will he ever do. Despite all the opprobrium against his move, there is no sense of regret in his body language: He still exhibits the same sense of arrogance and one-upmanship.
Rumors have it that Oli could declare the state of emergency, dissolve the provincial assemblies too. There is a danger of him taking yet another unconstitutional move to ‘justify’ the unconstitutional step of December 20.
It is therefore necessary for all of us who want this constitution to function and who care about this country to shout out that the PM is wrong and that he will be held responsible for possible crises that might follow.
Moment of truth for conscience keepers in the Supreme Court, political parties, civil society, media and intelligentsia.