Kathmandu: Nepal‘s political parties were struggling to reach a deal over the formation of a new government due to their factional feuds ahead of Thursday’s deadline set by the President after Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli lost a crucial trust vote on Monday.
The political stalemate comes at a time when the country is experiencing its worst COVID-19 surge with acute shortages of health facilities and oxygen for patients.
The Nepali Congress, under the leadership of party president Sher Bahadur Deuba, on Tuesday decided to stake a claim for the prime minister’s post.
But its plans to stake claim to a coalition government, however, seems to have hit a snag after a section of the Janata Samajbadi Party (JSP-N), led by Mahanta Thakur, has made clear that it won’t participate in any government formation process.
The Thakur-led faction has around 16 votes in the House of Representatives.
The Nepali Congress has 61 votes, backed by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre), which has 49 votes.
The Congress-Maoist Centre alliance has the support of around 15 lawmakers from the Upendra Yadav-led faction of the Janata Samajbadi Party.
But together they can ensure just 125 votes 11 short of the required 136 in the 271-strong House to form a coalition government.
President Bidhya Devi Bhandari has asked the Opposition parties to come up with the support of majority lawmakers to form a new government by 9 PM Thursday.
In a bid to break the deadlock, CPN-UML lawmaker Bhim Bahadur Rawal, who belongs to the Madhav Kumar Nepal-Jhalanath Khanal faction of the party, on Tuesday urged lawmakers who were close to the two leaders to resign en masse to facilitate the formation of a new government.
Rawal on Wednesday wrote on his Twitter that to topple the Oli-led government, they needed to resign from the Parliament.
“Extraordinary problems require extraordinary remedies. PM Oli should be toppled to prevent him from taking additional steps against national interests and party statute and to prevent him from engaging in undemocratic activities.
“For that, we should resign as members of Parliament. This is appropriate in terms of political morality and legal principles,” Rawal tweeted.
If 28 UML lawmakers of the Nepal-Khanal faction, who had abstained from the voting process when Oli sought a vote of confidence on Monday resign en masse, it will make it easier for the Nepali Congress and the CPN-Maoist Centre to form a new government even if Janata Samajbadi Party-Nepal ((JSP-N) lawmakers close to Thakur and Rajendra Mahato don’t support them.
If the 28 UML lawmakers quit en masse, the strength of the 271-member House of Representatives will be reduced to 243.
To avert the possible resignation of lawmakers close to the Nepal-led faction, Oli has withdrawn the party’s earlier decision to suspend four leaders.
These leaders include Nepal, Rawal, Surendra Pandey and Ghanashyam Bhusal.
It was unclear whether the decision to revoke the suspension will stop the resignation of the lawmakers close to former prime minister Nepal.
Nepal has given an ultimatum to the CPN-UML leadership to address their demands by 4:30 pm Thursday.
Oli, who is the chairman of CPN-UML, held a telephone conversation with Nepal in an apparent bid to convince the dissident faction.
Meanwhile, Baburam Bhattarai, a senior leader of JSP-N, said all parties needed to form a new national coalition government and hold elections in one year.
Bhattarai said such a government should not be led by a former prime minister or the current prime minister.
Bhattarai said such a government should be run based on a common minimum programme, should resolve the COVID crisis, and ensure economic relief packages, constitution amendment, and truth and reconciliation.
Given the parties’ strengths and particularly the factional feuds in the CPN-UML and the Janata Samajbadi, many say the current numbers game is just a futile exercise and that the country, which has had eight different governments in a decade, would sooner or later head towards early polls, the Kathmandu Post reported.
After Oli lost the trust vote, the NC, the CPN -MC and the faction of the JSP led by Yadav urged President Bhandari to invoke Article 76 (2) of the Constitution to pave the way for the formation of a new government.
It says in cases where no party has a clear majority in the House, the President shall appoint as the prime minister a member of the House who can command the majority with the support of two or more parties in the lower house of Parliament.
If two or more political parties failed to give a majority Prime Minister by Thursday evening then the President will invite parties to submit the name of a minority Prime Minister from the largest party as per Article 76 sub-clause 3 of the Constitution.
In that case, Oli, whose party has 121 seats in Parliament, may again claim stake as the new prime minister.
If Oli is appointed under the Constitution, he also needs to win the vote of confidence within 30 days from the date of the appointment.
Nepal plunged into a political crisis on December 20 last year after President Bhandari dissolved the House and announced fresh elections on April 30 and May 10 at the recommendation of Prime Minister Oli, amidst a tussle for power within the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP).
Oli’s move to dissolve the House sparked protests from a large section of the NCP led by his rival ‘Prachanda’.
In February, the apex court reinstated the dissolved House, in a setback to Oli who was preparing for snap polls.
Known for his pro-China stance, Oli had earlier served as the country’s prime minister from October 11, 2015 to August 3, 2016 during which Kathmandu’s ties with New Delhi had strained.
Oli said in Parliament on Monday that it was unfortunate that a government that tirelessly worked for the country’s development and nation-building was being targeted for narrow and partisan interests”.
Prominent leaders, including Deuba and Prachanda’, blamed Oli for his failure to tackle the surge in COVID-19 cases over the last few weeks.
They said corruption and scandals had blocked the supply of timely delivery of vaccines from India.
Just a month ago, the Himalayan nation of 31 million people was reporting about 100 COVID-19 cases a day.
On Tuesday, it reported 9,483 new cases and 225 virus-related fatalities, according to its health ministry — the highest single-day death toll since the pandemic began.
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