Nepal Oli’s new survival mantra –Trust Vote
Nepal politics have just entered a crucial phase with Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s decision to take a trust vote on Monday, 10th May, even though he has no majority on the floor of Pratinidhi Sabha, the Lower House of Parliament. His gamble has put the Opposition in disarray but has not yet helped Oli camp to ramp up numbers for a smooth sail in the 275-member House (four seats are vacant).
Survival on Monday insures Oli from Opposition onslaught for one year. It can even pave the way for an early parliamentary election. Defeat in the trust vote will gift Oli with more time to recite the survival mantra. Under Nepal statute, his UML, as the single largest party, should get the call to try to form the government once again.
Like all politicians cut in the Dickensian mode, Oli pocketed pride, talked with main Opposition Nepal Congress supremo Sher Bahadur Deuba on Wednesday, but drew a blank. Accompanied by four trusted aides—Subas Nembang, Ishwar Pokhrel, Bishnu Poudel and Ram Bahadur Thapa, offered a power-sharing deal in return for the support on the confidence vote, according to a media report. Congress leaders said Deuba rejected both the proposals. He will open his cards after the trust vote is over.
Two rounds of talks on Friday with UML dissidents led by former Prime Minister Madhav Nepal also failed to break the impasse. The Janata Samajwadi Party can bail him out. That chance looks dim. The 34-member party is vertically split into pro-and anti – Oli to his dismay.
In a manner of speaking, the trust vote was forced by the vily Maoist leader Prachanda, as Pushpa Kamal Dahal is known. As Oli was showing no signs of buckling under pressure, Prachanda announced that his 49 – Member Maoist Centre was withdrawing support to the government. The move was as much tactical as procedural. Oli-Prachanda alliance ended on 07 March with the Supreme Court setting aside the merger of UML and Maoist Centre to form CPN- the Communist Party of Nepal.
It was an unhappy merger from the word go notwithstanding the unity both sides had displayed in fighting the 2017 election. That was because Oli’s camp had a bigger hold in the new entity having won more seats in the general election. Prachanda closed ranks with UML dissidents led by Madhav Nepal. The rest is history as the saying goes.
Oli counter move – the trust vote – has taken the rival camp by surprise. They were not prepared for the gamble, secure as they were in the reality that Oli lacks the numbers to turn the tables on them. It came at a time when Prachanda was talking to Sher Bahadur Deuba as also Madhav Nepal and his UML dissident partner Jhala Nath Khanal to oust Oli.
That the three had failed to cash in on the humiliation Oli suffered from theSupreme Court rolling back his plan to dissolve Parliament, is neither here nor there. UML dissidents also failed to push ahead with their call against “the autocratic style of Prime Minister Oli”. Clearly, they were not confident of their numbers (around 27 -30 strong) in a party with 121 lawmakers on the treasury benches.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Lila Nath Shrestha said the Monday session would be a day-long affair. “Prime Minister would seek a vote of confidence on May 10. This will be just a day-long session of Pratinidhi Sabha”, he told the media in Kathmandu.
Pratinidhi Sabha’s composition is such that it would be difficult to defeat Oli. It is for this reason neither the Nepali Congress with an effective strength of 61 members nor the Maoist Centre did not opt for the trust vote route.
Deuba sounded reasonable when he remarked, “Why should we register a no-confidence motion (against Prime Minister Oli) when we do not have the numbers to pass it?”. If a no-confidence motion fails, then the whole game would be over, he told the media recently. Under the Nepal Constitution, in the event of defeat of no-confidence motion, no such motion can be tabled for a year, and it means a reprieve for the incumbent Prime Minister (Oli in the present instance) for one more year.
Well, the Nepal-Khanal faction of the ruling party can sway the power equations, if it joins hands with Nepali Congress and Maoist Centre. To avert such an eventuality, Prime Minister Oli has assumed sweeping powers by amending the party constitution, ticked them off publicly, and issued show-cause notices for “their anti-party” activities. Disciplinary action would mean an end to their parliamentary careers as they would stand disqualified.
While the show-cause notices have stymied Nepal-Khanal camp, they have not yielded much to the dismay of the Oli camp. About a week back, Oli and MadhavNepal had two rounds of one-on-one discussions over two days but failed to break the ice. Friday negotiations too made no headway in the absence of a face-saving offer on the table.
Oli is not willing to vacate the party Chair for Madhav Nepal. He is also averse to giving any important position to dissident leaders in the all-important Standing Committee or any other party forum. Defying the party whip, and voting against the confidence motion, would invite disciplinary action. Voting along with the rest of UML would put them to public shame- morally as well as politically.
A catch-22 situation is by all means. Madhav Kumar Nepal faction said to be toying with the idea of en masse resignations just before the House goes to vote, according to local media reports. Such a move may not translate into Advantage Oli though technically it will lower the threshold level for survival.
The real kingmaker in the prevailing scenario can be Janata Samajwadi Party. But it is a divided house. One faction led by Mahanta Thakur and Rajendra Mahato is for siding Oli. They have met with Prime Minister Oli and discussed the modalities of support, a euphemism for giving and take. It is said that about ten days ago Oli had sounded them of his plans for trust vote without spelling out the time frame.
So, the trust vote announcement did not take them by surprise; its timing did as they now have to ramp up their efforts. The other Samajwadi faction led by former Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai and senior leader Upendra Yadav is opposed to Mahanta – Mahato plank. “We have demanded Oli’s resignation. We have protested his repressive actions. Our thunder against the unconstitutional dissolution of Parliament was the loudest.
Now how can we support Oli and let him continue”, Baburam Bhattarai says. Their anguish has more or less sealed the scope for united action. No one is willing to entertain the prospect of a split amongst the Socialists. The Yadav-Bhattarai faction has 18 lawmakers, which means the other faction is 14- strong. Two members of the party cannot vote as they stand suspended.
Even if all the UML lawmakers vote for Oli and Mahanta – Mahato combine supports him, Prime Minister will still be short of the magic figure, well, one lawmaker short. The Rashtriya Janamorcha, Rashtriya Prajatantra Party and Nepal Majdoor Kisan Party has one lawmaker each. How they will show their cards is unclear.
Nepali Congress and Maoist Centre also have been in talks with the JanataSamajwadi Party on forming an alternative government. These talks made no progress since Mahanta – Mahato faction is holding parallel talks with the ruling CPN (UML). Samajwadi Party can therefore offer a lease of life to the Oli government or put in place a new coalition government.
As pointed out at the outset, Oli has carefully weighed all options before venturing into the trust vote gamble. If he gets more Ayes, he will continue as Prime Minister. In case he loses, he will pre-empt the opposition moves at the new coalition formation. And win or lose, he will exercise his fresh poll option.
Going by his political acumen, Oli can be expected to spring a surprise much before voting – if he finds number-crunching difficult. Nepal must brace up for early parliamentary elections even as the Himalayan country is finding no respite from the Covid-19 pandemic, which has exposed the utter inadequacy of the health infrastructure.
In the short run, however, one must keep one’s fingers crossed to know whether Oli remains in the saddle or Deuba, Prachanda or Mahanta Thakur takes the hot seat. One thing is clear though. Political ideologies have a short shelf-life while trust deficit is giving wings to Prime Ministerial ambitions.
Nepal Oli’s new survival mantra/Nepal Oli’s new survival mantra/Nepal Oli’s new survival mantra/Nepal Oli’s new survival mantra
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