PM Oli stands unchallenged: What’s the source of his power?

Mahabir Paudyal

  • Read Time 4 min.

Despite the clamoring call for his resignation from nearly all other parties, Prime Minister Oli stands unchallenged in politics. What’s his source of power?

One main agenda of all opponent political parties since Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli dissolved the House of Representatives on December 20, 2020 has been to unseat him.  Right after parliament dissolution, nearly all the parties, except leaders belonging to Oli faction in the erstwhile NCP and current UML, rallied against him in the streets. Nepali Congress launched nationwide protests against PM’s decision to dissolve parliament.   NCP faction close to Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Madhav Kumar Nepal launched fierce campaign against Oli, in Kathmandu and other parts of the country.  His opponents, even as the dissolution case was sub judice at the Supreme Court, were threatening to unseat him from power from the streets or through the House of Representatives, if the Court reinstated it.

The Supreme Court on February 23 restored the House of Representatives which convened its winter session on March 7 which continued nearly for one and half months until it was prorogued on April 19. But Prime Minister Oli did not have to face vote of no-confidence, despite the fact that parliamentary arithmetic does not support him. In the 271-member House of Representatives, UML faction led by Oli commands around 86 seats, Nepali Congress 63, Maoist Center of Pushpa Kamal Dahal 49, UML led by Madhav Nepal 35, Janata Samajbadi Party (JSP) 34 and smaller parties 4 seats.

Practically, if Dahal’s Maoist Center, UML faction led by Madahv Nepal and Nepali Congress unite they could form a new coalition and remove Oli from power.  Or if JSP, Congress and Maoist Center unite, they could challenge the PM.  But they have not been able to cobble up a coalition.

“This is because even though some are clamoring against this government, the fact remains that it is the government with the people’s mandate to rule for full five years.  There is no alternative to this government either,” said Bimala Rai Paudyal, the member of National Assembly of Federal Parliament.  “Building new alliance to replace the current government is not easy either.   Political opponents seem to have realized this, no matter what they say in public,” she explained. “It is the dharma of the opposition parties to criticize the government and to demand PM’s resignation.  But they are in no position to go against the people’s mandate, which is not about replacing this government with a coalition government.”

Even as Nepali Congress, Maoist Center, JSP and UML faction led by Madhav Nepal continue with fiery rhetoric against the PM, they have never stood united when it actually comes to bringing vote of no-confidence against him. Politics is stuck in his opponents demanding his resignation, and the PM challenging them to remove him from power if they can.

Fear and loathing

While UML faction led by Madhav Nepal risks facing disciplinary actions, even losing of MPs, if they stand tough against Oli (Oli as the leader of the parliamentary party of UML can take action against those who cross the floor), Nepali Congress and JSP are a divided house.  Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba has not been vocal critic of PM Oli since the latter took office in February, 2018.  “There seems to be a hidden and unseen understanding between party president Deuba and PM Oli,” said Dr Shekhar Koirala, a prominent leader of Nepali Congress, who has been demanding the resignation of PM Oli. “The silence of the party president on corruption scandals perpetrated by this government is deafening,” he added.  “Even as large section of Congress stood for reinstatement of the House, party president was rooting for early elections. The PM is actually taking advantage of the disunity and divide in other political parties,” he said. According to him, the PM has put all the constitutional organs under his control and he has not allowed parliament to function smoothly. “He seems to hate parliament.”

Countering PM Oli’s claim that the Speaker has stalled the MCC process, Dr Koirala revealed that there was an understanding between Congress and PM to raise MCC issue in parliament on April 20.   “But the House session was prorogued on April 19 and the PM raised the MCC issue in all-party meeting instead,” said Dr Koirala. “PM himself does not seem willing to push MCC,” he claimed.

There is no consensus in Janata Samjbadi Party regarding what to do with the current government. While Baburam Bhattarai and Upendra Yadav want Oli to go, Mahantha Thakur has spoken in no uncertain terms that he will not turn against Oli. Prime Minister Oli seems to stand as an indomitable actor in power.

Is he having the last laugh?

“What looks like the power of the prime minister is actually an illusion of power,” said political analyst Mumaram Khanal. “He has blocked all the routes through which his position could be challenged legitimately. He does not care whether the party breaks into pieces. Thus the way he is consolidating power is illegitimate and detrimental to the country.”

According to Khanal, the PM has used the parliamentary party, a legitimate instrument to challenge him, in such a way that though he has been politically opposed he has been able to use parliament structure in his favor, even by causing ruptures in other parties. “He has been playing a divide and rule card even in other parties,” he contended. “Such a move in civilized politics is considered as a political crime,” said Khanal, “but in country like Nepal where democracy is yet to be fully institutionalized, where political parties are guided by the idea of toppling the government of opposing party to come to power, where the parties have never aligned their agendas with nation building, it may look normal.”

“When a person becomes powerful by destroying the institutions that power is only an illusion,” he summed up.

What next?

After months of recriminations and hate-and-hate relationship, Madhav Kumar Nepal and Prime Minister appeared to try bury the hatchet and move on.  Then the PM removed nearly all the leaders close to Nepal faction from the party’s Standing Committee on April 23, thereby ending the prospects of rapprochement. Now Oli and Nepal will keep bickering over who is to blame, who is wrong and who is right. Oli and his opponents may still keep crying foul against each other, yet not be able to do anything against him.

Can politics be only about the fight for breaking or sustaining one single political party, for the sake of one man or against him, for months on end, at the expense of all other pressing issues?