Deuba will obtain the vote of confidence to form a government only if the 149 lawmakers do not change their minds
President Bidhya Devi Bhandari appointed Nepali Congress head Sher Bahadur Deuba as the new Prime Minister of Nepal on Tuesday as ordered by the Supreme Court, a day after its verdict to reinstate the dissolved House of Representatives (HoR). Deuba must now prove his majority in the restored House, whose session must convene by July 18 as ordered by the Court. This is the second time that the House dissolved by former Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli has been reinstated by the Supreme Court in less than five months. The five-member constitutional bench led by Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher Rana ruled that the constitution did not give discretionary powers to the PM to dissolve the HoR in the name of political stability and fresh mandate. It said intra-party fighting could not be the ground for dissolving the HoR. It further observed that Oli, who had been appointed as per Article 76 (3) of the constitution, could not be appointed the country's executive head under Article 76 (5) by dodging Article 76(4), which required him to seek the confidence of the Parliament.
The Supreme Court verdict is a landmark in that it paves the way for preventing abrupt dissolution of the HoR at the whim of the prime minister. By ruling that lawmakers need not follow the party whip when voting to elect a prime minister under Article 76 (5), they are free to cross the floor. This means there is a greater chance of the House surviving a full five-year term, as desired by the people of Nepal, and preventing political instability.
In its 167-page ruling, the Court said that since easy use of power to dissolve the House could lead to abuse of authority, unnecessary expenditure, political instability, and political inactivity, the Constituent Assembly had limited the scope for HoR dissolution.
Five-time lucky Deuba was sworn in as the new Prime Minister after the SC verdict ruled that his claim for the PM's post, with the support of 149 lawmakers at the time of the Parliament's dissolution on May 22, was a credible ground for him to win the vote of confidence. The support to Deuba, of course, comes from lawmakers from an array of political parties, all eager to join the government for personal gain than concern for the people and country. And Deuba will obtain the vote of confidence to form a government only if these lawmakers and the parties will not change their minds during the fierce bargaining for posts that is likely to ensue, failing which Deuba will have no option other than to dissolve the House and call for fresh elections under him within six months. The political uncertainty comes at a time when the country is battling against the surging coronavirus, and all sectors, including the economy, are in the doldrums. There is an acute shortage of COVID-19 vaccines, with less than 5 per cent of the eligible fully immunised. The new budget, which comes into force from the new fiscal year on Friday, has also come under fire from the SC, observing that a budget brought under an ordinance will not reflect the political system based on people's representatives.
The challenges before the new PM are enormous, and he must handle them with deft if he is not to be rejected by the people too soon.
With the quick dispatch of US-donated 1.53 million doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccines to Nepal through the COVAX programme, a global initiative dedicated for equitable access to COVID-19 tests, treatments and vaccines throughout the world, the country is now in a better position to immunise a large number of people. The vaccines are scheduled to be rolled out all over the country within a couple of days. The vaccines, which arrived in Nepal on a chartered flight Monday morning, were handed over to the Nepal government. Johnson & Johnson's vaccine is a single dose vaccine, approved by the Government of Nepal for emergency use.
The vaccines donated by the U.S. government on behalf of the American people reflect the longstanding friendship between the two countries. Earlier, President Bidhya Devi Bhandari had written to her U.S. counterpart, Joe Biden, requesting him to provide Nepal the much-needed vaccines so that the Nepali people could stay safe from the COVID-19 pandemic that has so far claimed the lives of more than 9,000 people. Nepal has so far given double doses of vaccines to a total of 1,079,192 people, and the first dose to 2,611,807 people. So far, Nepal has inoculated less than 5 per cent of the population.
A version of this article appears in the print on July 14 2021, of The Himalayan Times.