The aftermath of constitutional crime: Oli or Deuba becoming PM followed by restoration of the House, midterm elections, or a state of emergency?

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Kathmandu: The Friday midnight assault on the Constitution and dissolution of the House of Representatives by Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli and President Bidhya Devi Bhandari has left a gaping hole of political uncertainty and potential constitutional crisis in the country. 

Though the government has announced the midterm elections to be held in two phases–November 12 and 19–in line with Article 76(7) of the constitution, as many as 30 writ petitions have been filed at the apex court against the move of the PM and the President. On Monday, 146 lawmakers led by Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba filed a case at the Supreme Court demanding restoration of the House of Representatives and recognizing Deuba as a prime minister. Deuba had claimed the leadership of the new government with the signatures of 149 lawmakers. Then Oli claimed he had 153 lawmakers on his side. Oli’s claim, however, was questionable because the Madhav Nepal faction of CPN-UML, which has over 20 lawmakers with it, had already supported the coalition led by Deuba. Besides, cases of forgery and misuse of signatures were suspected. 

Instead of verifying the claim and counterclaim, President Bhandari declared both the claims invalid, making it easier for Oli to dissolve parliament. Amid the uncertainty that followed, what will happen next is a subject of everyone’s curiosity.  

Uncertainties and complexities 

There are many questions around uncertainties. Some of the key issues before the Supreme Court are: 

Authenticity of the claim: KP Oli has claimed the stake of the government with 153 MPs while Sher Bahadur Deuba has claimed with 149 number of MPs. KP Oli faction has come forward with the logic of the whipping system of parliamentary democracy in their favor while the opposition faction of his party and other leaders believe that the constitution does not explicitly mention this provision. 

Reality on the ground: In a rare move, as many as 146 members of the opposition alliance and the Madhav Nepal faction of UML have filed a joint petition at the Supreme Court demanding the reinstatement of parliament and an order to appoint Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba prime minister. These leaders made a majority in numbers of the dissolved parliament and they were physically present at the court to file the petition. The court cannot ignore this reality. 

Apart from those two big questions, many other questions and issues have been raised in at least 30 writs registered at the Supreme Court. 

The Supreme Court should give the verdict and the likely scenarios are:

Scenarios if the House is restored:

If the Supreme Court, as it did in February, will declare House dissolution unconstitutional, thereby reinstating the House of Representatives, some likely scenarios are:

1. KP Oli will vacate and Sher Bahadur Deuba becomes PM

With the support of 146 lawmakers (who filed a writ petition in the apex court), Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba will become the Prime Minister of Nepal. 

If the Supreme Court rules out the verdict on the case related to the claim on PM, the Court might declare Deuba as the prime minister. It is likely because KP Oli has already refused to go for the floor test at parliament. The court may consider his refusal for floor test and presence of 146 leaders as evidence that the majority is with Sher Bahadur Deuba.

2. KP Oli remains in power

Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli can still remain in power, if the Supreme Court only reinstates the House and does not pass other verdicts. Then history might repeat. In such circumstances, the president’s office will be in the decisive role. Earlier, President Bidya Devi Bhandari ignored the fact that some influential leaders from UML and JSPN were present in her office to claim the stake of PM for Sher Bahadur Deuba. If the unity in favor of Deuba fractures, then they will not be able to stand against Oli.

In both cases, the new government will be formed in line with Article 76(5) of the constitution as PM Oli has already denied other articles. 

 If the House is not restored:

What if the house is not restored? In that case, following are the likely scenarios:

1. Midterm elections in the stipulated time

If the House does not get restored, the KP Oli government will be in the role to hold the next election. But the chances of elections in November are very slim due to i) the Covid-19 pandemic, ii) the interest of forces that want instability in the country. 

2. Constitutional crisis due to delay in the election

What if the elections could not be held in the stipulated time? There is no explicit provision in the constitution for that scenario. This will bring a constitutional crisis. There will be a complete deadlock in such a situation. Some predict that the government will declare a state of emergency while others speculate the return of the Khila Raj Regmi episode. Khil Raj Regmi, then serving as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, finally became the government head when the political parties failed to build consensus on who should lead the government to hold the  second Constituent Assembly elections of 2013. This episode is remembered as the outcome of collective failure of the political parties, and power play by foreign factor. Whichever the situation, Nepalis will suffer from the crisis and the country will see another round of perennial instability. 

3. People’s protest and mass movement

People are already frustrated with the government’s apathy during the pandemic and big corruption scams. In that case, political leaders from the opposition front may tap into their frustration and lead the movement. The gravity of the movement and protest depends on the role of the Nepali Congress.