If the Prime Minister loses the vote of confidence he will resign, paving the way for an early election, which is his ultimate goal
President Bidhya Devi Bhandari has called the special session of the House of Representatives (HoR), scheduled for May 10, on the recommendation of Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli. During the Cabinet meeting held on Sunday, PM Oli informed the Cabinet members that he was seeking a vote of confidence of the revived parliament that he dissolved on December 20 last year. This is the first time that the PM is seeking a vote of confidence since the five-member constitutional bench of the Supreme Court reinstated the House on February 23 on the grounds that his recommendation to do so was unconstitutional.
Earlier, the PM was resisting calls for proving his majority in the House following the apex court's nullification of the unification between the then CPN-UML and CPN-Maoist Centre as the Nepal Communist Party on March 7. Although the CPN-Maoist Centre has not withdrawn its support to the Oli-led government, PM Oli has decided to seek the vote of confidence of the House well before the start of the budget session of the parliament, which should convene at least two weeks before the May 28 budget speech. The CPN-MC and others have failed to get enough votes to oust him from office.
PM Oli has found the right time to seek the vote of confidence after he mustered solid backing of a faction of the Janata Samajbadi Party (JSP) led by Mahantha Thakur. As the largest party in the House, with a strength of 121 members in the 275-member HoR, Oli needs the backing of only 15 members from the JSP faction to win the vote of confidence as four members of the CPN-Maoist Centre have lost their parliamentary seats for defecting to the CPN- UML. This time around, he is trying to kill two birds with one stone. If he wins the vote of confidence, he will stay in office for the remaining term, and if he loses the motion, he will resign, paving the way for an early election, which is his ultimate goal. Politically, he will have an upperhand even if he fails to win the vote of confidence as he will be leading a minority government as the single largest party in the parliament. As per Article 76 (3) of the constitution, the single largest party will get an opportunity to form a minority government subject to proving its majority within 30 days from the date of the formation of such a government.
This will ultimately lead to Article 76 (7), which allows the President to announce the mid-term elections as desired by PM Oli.
If the PM fails to win the vote of confidence, the mid-term elections could be held in November/ December.
The PM's intention is to drag the country into early polls when the country is besieged by the rising number of COVID-19 infections and COV- ID-related deaths. The PM and the government's priority should be focused on controlling the coronavirus by taking the general public into confidence. This is not the right time to engage in political maneuvering.
It will only send a wrong message to the public that the government is not serious about saving the lives of the people, rather it is hell-bent on saving its political future at the cost of people's health. It might also not be possible to hold the mid-term elections at a time when the virus is raising its ugly head.
The government's decision to suspend all domestic flights from Monday is in the right direction, what with the sharp increase in the number of fresh infections and deaths. Nepal on Sunday recorded 7,137 fresh COVID infections – the highest number since the pandemic began – a figure that is likely to double in the next few days. So the government is under tremendous pressure to prevent people's mobility so as to break the chains of infection. Prohibitory orders were enforced from Thursday in all the districts that are now hotbeds of the coronavirus. Following the orders, all vehicles were swept off the streets, but domestic airlines were allowed to ferry passengers.
Despite the airline operators' assurances that all health protocols would be followed, Nepal's domestic airports see crowds of passengers daily, with little likelihood of maintaining social distancing. The suspension of domestic flights will definitely not be agreeable to the private airlines, but the government is taking no chances, given the unprecedented spike in daily new cases. We ought to learn lessons from the strict lockdown that Nepal imposed in March last year, when it was able to keep the coronavirus cases very low.
A version of this article appears in the print on May 4, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.