The CPN-UML and the Janata Samajbadi Party-Nepal split today after the government amended the Political Party Act through an ordinance lowering threshold for splitting political parties.

The faction of UML led by Madhav Kumar Nepal and Jhalanath Khanal applied for registration of a new party, CPN-UML Socialist, at the Election Commission.

The faction of the JSP-N led by Mahantha Thakur and Rajendra Mahato also applied for registration at the poll panel seeking a new outfit.

According to Nepal-Khanal faction leader Rajendra Pandey, 28.57 per cent of the 203-member central committee of the UML signed the petition to split from the party.

Another leader of the faction Birodh Khatiwada said out of the 95-member central committee of the Nepal-Khanal faction, 58 signed the petition, including 22 UML lawmakers who had voted in favour of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba during the trust vote and nine National Assembly members.

Some of the second-generation leaders who were close to Nepal ditched him at the last hour. They include Yubaraj Gyawali, Astalaxmi Shakya, Amrit Bohara, Bhim Rawal, Ghanashyam Bhusal, Gokarana Bista, and Surendra Prasad Pandey.

Khatiwada said these leaders wanted Nepal to explore the possibility of unity with party Chair KP Sharma Oli. "Now that Oli has expelled us from the party, there is no need for us to hold unity talks with him," he argued.

He said his party would choose a poll symbol later after discussing the matter with party leaders and EC office bearers.

The Sher Bahadur Deuba government that the Nepal-Khanal faction had backed during the process of forming a new government under Article 76 (5) and the trust vote brought the ordinance to help the faction split from its mother party with 20 per cent of members in the UML's central committee.

EC Spokesperson Raj Kumar Shrestha said the commission would verify documents submitted by the two factions of the CPN-UML and the JSP-N and would take a call as per prevailing laws. He said the EC had 45 days to register new parties, but it could do so earlier as well if the verification process ended early.

Former attorney general Agni Prasad Kharel blasted the government for bringing the ordinance to lower the threshold to split a party. He said it violated the spirit of the constitution and also the Supreme Court's verdict delivered recently in the case challenging the citizenship ordinance issued by the Oli government.

Kharel said the government had no justification to bring the ordinance within 24 hours of abruptly proroguing the Parliament.

In the case challenging the citizenship ordinance, the Supreme Court had observed that the government should not issue an ordinance unless it was extremely necessary. It had also said that issuing an ordinance to accrue political benefits by evading the Parliament could lead to a situation where powers of the Parliament could be unnecessarily infringed upon.

Kharel said the Deuba government 'committed a crime' by issuing the ordinance to prolong his rule. He said the Nepal-Khanal faction of the UML violated the precedent set by the Supreme Court in Rishi Ram Kattel's case wherein the court said that the name of a political party should be starkly different from another political party.

"How can Nepal-Khanal faction seek to register another party with the name UML. If the faction was so fond of the UML party, then it should stay with the mother party," Kharel argued.

A version of this article appears in the print on August 19 2021, of The Himalayan Times.