--BY VISHWASH THAPA
Amid the increasing feud within the CPN-UML, four members of its Karnali Provincial Assembly on April 16 defied the party whip and supported Chief Minister Mahendra Bahadur Shahi.
The party on March 17 had withdrawn its support to Shahi with an attempt to overthrow the CPN (Maoist Centre) led government. Shahi needed 21 votes to survive as the chief minister in the 40-member strong provincial assembly. The Maoist Centre, which has 12 seats in the assembly, would have collapsed had all lawmakers of the UML with 20 seats decided to vote to unseat Shahi.
The differences between the Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli and the Madhav Kumar Nepal faction in the ruling party have grown so sour that Ammar Bahadur Thapa, Prakash Jwala, Kurmaraj Shahi and Nanda Singh Budha crossed the floor ignoring the party decisions. All four represent the Nepal faction in the party.
The Pushpa Kamal Dahal, the co-chair of the Nepal Communist Party (NCP), and Nepal-led factions were together and stronger than the Oli-faction when the party was intact. The Supreme Court on February 7 revived the UML and the Maoist Centre passing a verdict to award the NCP to Rishiram Kattel. The split of the NCP changes the scenario in the UML where the Oli-faction has a command in the parliamentary party and the central committee.
The Nepal faction is continuing its parallel activities saying the Oli-faction monopolised the party despite the warning from the establishment faction. The move to defy the party whip in the Karnali Provincial Assembly was a warning from the dissident faction in the party that it can go to any extent to counter the Oli-faction.
The decision to defy the party whip, the leaders from both the factions say, shows the party has headed towards a split. Yet in the initiation of the second rung leaders, Oli and Nepal held one to one meetings on April 21 and 22 in an attempt to sort out the issues. The meeting, however, didn’t yield anything positive.
While Oli asked Nepal to give up the parallel activities, Nepal asked Oli to withdraw all the decisions taken unilaterally. The UML with a majority vote has formed a general convention organising committee, suspended Nepal, Bhim Rawal, Ghanshyam Bhusal and Surendra Pandey from the party for six months and sought clarification from 22 of its lawmakers on the charge of breaching party disciplines. The party has sacked the four provincial assembly members who crossed the floor.
On April 23 the UML removed all the leaders close to Nepal and senior leader Jhalanath Khanal from the party’s Standing Committee and inducted those who quit the Maoist Centre to join the UML.
Despite the actions the Nepal-faction hasn’t given up its parallel structure in a clear signal that it can take any extreme measures if Oli doesn’t stop cornering it. Comparatively weaker though the Nepal faction might be, the UML could still face severe consequences from the provinces to the centre if the faction opts to violate the party whip. The UML leads the federal government along with four out of seven provinces. Except for Province 2, it is the largest party in all the other provinces.
However, the party’s governments stand on shaky ground in all the provinces including in the centre. The Lumbini Provincial government led by Shankar Pokharel hardly survived after four provincial assembly members of the Janata Samajbadi Party defied the party’s order to stand against the UML government. Similarly, a no confidence motion has already been filed against Prithvi Subba Gurung’s government in Gandaki Province while the opposition parties from the Province-1 too are working to unseat Sher Dhan Rai.
The Nepal faction hasn’t stood against its own government in any provinces. It stood with Pokharel in the Lumbini Province. It’s act of defiance, however, could compel the UML to lose all the governments from the provinces to the centre. The Nepal faction is hesitant to take the extreme measures fearing that it would lose the membership of the federal parliament and the provincial assemblies similar to that of the Karnali Province.
The Political Parties Act-2017 makes it mandatory to have 40 percent both in the Central Committee and the Parliamentary Party to form another party. The Nepal-faction lacks that strength. However, the leaders from the faction have publicly said the membership of the parliament issue won’t stop them from challenging the moves by Oli. The faction has 38 lawmakers in the House of Representatives.
The UML with 121 seats in the Lower House is continuing in the government as the Maoist Centre is yet to withdraw its support. The Maoist Centre with 53 lawmakers is making final preparations to pull its support from the Oli government.
As per Article 100 (2) the Oli government will have to seek a vote of confidence within 30 days once the Maoist withdraws the support. It says, if the political party which the prime minister represents is divided or a political party in a coalition government withdraws its support, the prime minister shall table a motion in the House of Representatives for a vote of confidence within thirty days.
The Oli government will survive if the party’s lawmakers remain intact and the Janata Samajbadi Party, with 34 seats including two suspended lawmakers, votes in favour of the confidence motion. A faction in the party led by Mahantha Thakur that has around 20 lawmakers is positive towards supporting Oli. The faction has already extended support to the UML in Lumbini Province.
However, Oli’s government will lose the vote of confidence if the Nepal-faction decides to cross the floor. Losing the vote of confidence means Oli will have to resign as the prime minster.
That will lead to situation for the opposition parties to form a coalition government or the largest party to claim the government. If that attempts fails, the country will head for snap polls leading to the dissolution of the House of Representatives constitutionally. Oli in the party meeting on April 23 said the general elections will be held in February next year around a year earlier than its stipulated time. The last general elections which are held every five years, were conducted in November 2017.