How is the Nepalese parliament inclusive

Government Crisis in Nepal: Political Transformation at a Crossroads?

Political instability is back in Kathmandu. At the end of December, Prime Minister Oli entered a power struggle that had been simmering for months within his ruling class Nepal Communist Party (NCP) surprisingly dissolve parliament. This move, which many observers call unconstitutional, has led to the breakup of the ruling party.

Since President Bhandari dissolved parliament on December 20, 2020 at the request of Prime Minister Oli and called early elections for the end of April, indignation has caused waves in the country on the edge of the Himalayas. Representatives from civil society, the opposition and members of the ruling NCP accused Oli of breaking the constitution and mobilized their supporters. Thousands of demonstrators then filled the streets of Kathmandu and other major cities - united in calling for the reinstatement of parliament. The Prime Minister's opponents point out that the Nepalese constitution only allows parliament to be dissolved if the government no longer has a majority there. However, the ruling party has almost a two-thirds majority. The necessary examination of whether an alternative government could be formed instead has not taken place either. Accordingly, his approach is not constitutional. Oli justified this with a lack of willingness to cooperate within his party, which stood in the way of decision-making. But it seems that the prime minister acted primarily to maintain his own power. With the maneuver he apparently wanted to forestall an attempt by his opponents in the ruling party to have him removed from office and also to remove him from the post of party leader. The Nepalese Constitutional Court is now dealing with the case - its most important since the new constitution came into force in 2015.

Government crisis with announcement

This escalation was preceded by a long-running conflict over power in the NCP. It was newly formed in 2018 through the merger of Communist Party of Nepal- Maoist and the United Marxist-Leninists (UML), the two largest communist parties in the country. In the last election they ran together and could clearly decide for themselves. The ruling party, which is still young, is led by the long-standing leaders of the two predecessor parties, who seem careful not to lose their own influence. Oli's main internal opponents are the two former prime ministers Pushpa Kamal Dahal, known as Prachanda, and Madhav Kumar Nepal.

A central stumbling block in the internal party dispute has its roots in the power-strategic considerations of the actors. Oli's unwillingness to share his power - an important basis for the functioning of democratic political systems - is at the center of criticism. Unofficially, a division of the Prime Minister's office between Oli and Prachanda had been agreed, which provided for a change in staff halfway through their term of office. In the previous government coalition between the Nepali Congress and the Maoists, such a change of prime minister had already been practiced once. However, when the time for the handover of the Prime Minister's post to Prachanda came in spring 2020, Oli refused to hand it over and stayed in office. Since then, there have been great tensions between Prachanda and his supporters in the party on the one hand and the group around Oli on the other. Oli's opponents accuse him of failing to comply with an agreement on the division of responsibilities between the two of them. After that, Oli would be in the lead role in all government affairs, while Prachanda would be the main person in charge of running the party. Instead of involving them, so the critics, Oli ignores high-ranking party members in important decisions and appointments and tries to keep them in their own hands. The current government crisis is also overshadowing the health crisis triggered by the corona pandemic. It was evidently unable to develop a unifying dynamic of bringing political opponents to a common table despite their differences in order to work out solutions. Instead, the inadequacies in managing the pandemic Prachanda and his supporters provided another welcome source of criticism of the prime minister.

After the ruling party was about to collapse several times in 2020 due to the existing conflict, the final split has now occurred. The two rival camps around Oli on the one hand and Prachanda and Madhav Kumar Nepal on the other have since made it very clear which verdict they expect from the constitutional court to dissolve parliament. While this is still pending, one thing seems certain: the country is now facing more unsettled months politically.

Role of China and India

These developments do not go unnoticed in the regional environment. Nepal's powerful neighbors China and India are closely monitoring the political turmoil in the country. They are not interested in destabilizing Nepal. The fear of losing influence in the Himalayan state against the other great power also plays a role here.

Nepal is traditionally a partner of India. Since the now collapsed government took office, however, the country had turned more than before to its northern neighbor. China is considered to be the architect of the merger Communist Party of Nepal- Maoist and the UML to the NCP. Just a few days after the dissolution of parliament and the split up of the ruling party, China was there with a delegation to hold talks with the two rival blocs. This suggests that the country sees its interests and influence at risk as a result of this collapse. Nepalese media report that the Chinese ambassador has already intervened and mediated several times in the inter-party conflict in 2020. But neither she nor her counterparts from Beijing succeeded in persuading the quarreling camps to continue working together. In contrast, India has so far been more cautious and has described the dissolution of parliament as an internal matter. The country's bilateral relations with Nepal recently suffered from a border conflict that is still ongoing.

Lost in Transformation?

Nepal's political transformation process is suffering a setback due to current developments. For many years the country has been struggling with political instability and its negative consequences for long-term and coherent policy-making. Almost every government since 1990 fell apart before the end of their term in office. Between 2008 and 2018 alone, the country had a total of ten different governments. While the last few years have given the impression that Nepal is increasingly leaving behind frequent early changes of government, hopes for more stable political conditions are fading against the background of current developments. The transformation index BTI described the political and economic development since 2017 as a time of upswing and cautious optimism in Nepal and certified the country's progress in these areas. The new institutional framework created by the 2015 constitution should help stabilize the political situation. Among other things, the constitution made it difficult to dissolve parliament. If the process of its creation was itself full of conflict and accompanied by unrest, the constitution is now facing a serious test. Overcoming the old behavioral patterns of the political leadership, which create instability and are currently emerging again, would mean an important step for the transformation process in Nepal.