Asia in Review Archive 2021

Nepal

Date of AiR edition

News summary

20 July 2021

Nepal: President Bhandari rescinds contentious Constitutional Council ordnance

(lm) Nepal’s President and ceremonial head of state Bidhya Devi Bhandari on July 18 revoked the contentious Constitutional Council Act (Amendment) Ordinance on the recommendation of the new government that took office early last week. [The Himalayan Times]

The former KP Sharma Oli-led government earlier in May had issued the ordinance to enable the Constitutional Council (CC) – a key agency that appoints officials at various constitutional bodies – to achieve quorum if as few as three of its current five members attend a meeting.

The ordinance had originally been issued in December of last year, after which the CC had met with the newly reduced quorum and made 38 nominations to vacant positions on 11 constitutional bodies [see AiR No. 51, December/2020, 4]. But the ordinance then failed to get tabled in the inaugural session of the reinstated lower house of Parliament on March 7 – as mandated by the Constitution – and thus, had to be re-issued.

International human bodies had also expressed concern over the ordinance and its fallout over the independence of constitutional bodies: Earlier this month, a sub-committee of the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions decided to conduct a special review of the status of Nepal’s Human Rights Commission and gave the national body until July 28 to justify whether the recent appointments to various constitutional bodies comply with existing international norms. [AiR No. 28, July/2021, 2]

20 July 2021

Nepal: New Prime Minister Deuba wins crucial vote of confidence

(lm) Nepal’s Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba won a crucial vote of confidence in Parliament on July 18 affirming is position after the country’s Supreme Court ousted hitherto Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli following months of political turmoil. Deuba is set to remain in office for a year and a half, until periodic elections are held. [The Straits Times]

On July 12, the country’s highest court ruled as unconstitutional Oli’s move in May to dissolve Parliament’s lower chamber for the second time and call for snap elections. In an indication that Oli had deprived the opposition of a chance to form a government when they had enough support, the apex court ordered Oli replaced as prime minister by Deuba. [AiR No. 28, July/2021, 2]

The Supreme Court called for him to be appointed to the job within two days, but Deuba still needed to secure a vote of confidence in the House within 30 days from his appointment. [The New York Times]

Deuba, who was the head of the opposition Nepali Congress, received 165 votes of support in the 275-seat lower house of Parliament. He needed 136 votes to win the House confidence, as four lawmakers remain suspended. [The Kathmandu Post]

13 July 2021

Nepal: Human Rights Commission faces possible downgrading over controversial appointments

(lm) A sub-committee of the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI) has decided to conduct a special review of the status of Nepal’s Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and has given the national body until July 28 to justify whether the recent appointments to various constitutional bodies comply with existing international norms. [The Kathmandu Post 1] [The Kathmandu Post 2]

The NHRC is currently graded ‘A’ by the GANHRI for its compliance with the Paris Principles, which were adopted by the UN General Assembly as the basic standards governing the mandate and operation of effective national human rights organizations. Above all, the Paris Principles require that a national human rights institution is independent of government and non-government organizations and that its independence is guaranteed by law.

In December of last year, Nepal’s Constitutional Council (CC) – a key agency that nominates officials for various constitutional bodies – had made 38 nominations to vacant positions on 11 constitutional bodies. Crucially, prior to the meeting, the government had issued an ordinance allowing the CC to achieve quorum if as few as three of its five members attend a meeting.

Under the Constitution, appointments to these key institutions are supposed to be vetted by a 15-member joint committee representing both chambers of Parliament. However, Prime Minister Oli dissolved Parliament’s lower house and announced snap elections on December 20 – five days after the appointments were announced [see AiR No. 51, December/2020, 4].

Thus, Nepal’s President Bidhya Devi Bhandari in February appointed 32 individuals to various constitutional bodies – including to all five seats on the NHRC – despite legal challenges in the Supreme Court to the constitutionality of the nominations and the dissolution of the House.

In the following months, then, international rights organizations and independent experts from the United Nations called on the Nepal government to withdraw the ordinance, saying it would undermine public trust and confidence in the integrity of the judiciary and other constitutional bodies. [AiR No. 11, March/2021, 3AiR No. 18, May/2021, 1].

These organizations are concerned that following the new appointments the NHRC no longer meets the standards that would justify it being graded ‘A’ by the GANHRI. Nepal’s government in March had initially maintained that the appointments were made without jeopardizing the commission’s autonomy, but the GANHRI took the view that the response provided did not fully address all the concerns raised.

Compliance with the Paris Principles is the central requirement of the accreditation process that regulates access to the United Nations Human Rights Council and other UN bodies.

13 July 2021

Nepal: People’s Socialist Party, Nepal, to split little more than a year after merger

(lm) After months of intraparty conflict whether or not to support the dissolution of Parliament’s lower house, the two factions of the People’s Socialist Party, Nepal, (PSP-N) last week decided to part ways. 

The PSP-N was formed in April of last year through the merger of the two key Madhesh-based parties in Nepal, the Samajbadi Party, Nepal (SPN) and the Rastriya Janata Party Nepal (RJPN) [see AiR No. 28, July/2020, 2]. Madhesi are people of Indian ancestry residing in the Terai of Nepal that make up about 20 percent of the country’s total population.

Importantly, both factions have divergent views on whether the PSP-N should support the KP Sharma Oli-led government or help opposition parties form a new coalition government. The dispute reached a climax when the faction led by former SPN leaders Baburam Bhattarai and Upendra Yadav supported a petition filed with the Supreme Court that called for the formation of a government under the leadership of opposition leader Sher Bahadur Deuba.

The Election Commission (EC) had invited both factions of the party on July 6 in a bid to mediate a rapprochement, but neither side acquiesced to keep the party unity intact. The EC will now form a bench and begin a hearing process to decide which faction will get to retain the party name and the election symbol. [The Kathmandu Post 1]

While it is putting the clock back to before last year’s merger of the SPN and the RJPN, the split will likely have little impact on national politics, as the two factions have already been supporting opposing political camps. 

Thus, RJPN leaders Mahanta Thakur and Rajendra Mahato will likely continue lending their support to caretaker Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, while the SPN headed by Yadav and Bhattarai can be expected to join hands with the opposition alliance of Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre). [The Kathmandu Post 2]

13 July 2021

Nepal: Supreme Court orders opposition rival replace KP Sharma Oli as Prime Minister

(lm) Nepal’s Supreme Court on July 12 reinstated the lower house of parliament and appointed opposition leader Sher Bahadur Deuba the country’s new prime minister. The ruling deals a major blow to hitherto caretaker Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli, Oli, who has struggled to hold his government together since he lost a vote of confidence and dissolved the House in May. [Bloomberg] [South China Morning Post] [The Diplomat]

Prime Minister Oli lost a confidence vote on May 10. But before his rivals could stake a claim, the prime minister directed President and ceremonial head of state Bidhya Devi Bhandari to dissolve the House and announce new elections later this year, saying neither he nor opposition leader Deuba were able to muster a majority and form a new government. [AiR No. 21, May/2021, 4]

The move had sparked a fresh constitutional crisis in the Himalayan nation, marking his second attempt to force a fresh election by dissolving parliament’s lower chamber after an initial attempt in December [see AiR No. 51, December/2020, 4].

Court challenges included one by a coalition of opposition parties that called for the immediate restoration of parliament’s lower chamber, with Deuba as the new prime minister [see AiR No. 22, June/2021, 1].

6 July 2021

Nepal: Prime Minister Oli softens stance to avoid party split

(lm) As Nepal’s Supreme Court is concluding its hearings in the case pertaining to the dissolution of Parliament’s lower house, caretaker Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli is leaving no avenue unexplored to ensure he remains in office in the event of a verdict resulting in the revival of the House.

On June 30, the committee organizing the next convention of Oli’s Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) (CPN-UML) voted to revive the party’s Central Committee, which existed prior to the now-defunct merger of the CPN-UML and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) (CPN(M)) in 2018.

The move followed on a ruling by Nepal’s Supreme Court in June, which had annulled all decisions taken by the convention committee, observing that committee meant for another purpose cannot appropriate the right and responsibilities of the Central Committee.

In a bit to pour oil on troubled waters, the committee also decided to scrap its earlier decision to oust eleven of the party’s lawmakers close to CPN-UML senior leader Madhav Kumar Nepal [see AiR No. 22, June/2021, 1], and to bear the expense for medical treatment of former Prime Minister Jhalnath Khanal. Both Nepal and Khanal are leading a group of more than 20 CPN-UML lawmakers that has sided with the parliamentary opposition. [The Himalayan Times] [The Kathmandu Post]

But the Madhav-Nepal faction decided to boycott a meeting of the re-established Central Committee on July 2, calling Wednesday’s decision a ‘sham’. [khabarhub]

 

6 July 2021

Nepal: Supreme Court closes hearings in case on dissolution of parliaments’ lower house

(lm) Nepal’s Supreme Court on July 5 concluded the hearing of a slew of writ petitions challenging the dissolution of Parliament’s lower house and is likely to announce the verdict in the case next week. [The Himalayan Times]

As many as 146 lawmakers – including 23 from Prime Minister Oli’s ruling party – filed a petition with the apex court three days after Nepal’s President Bidya Devi Bhandari on May 22 dissolved the House and scheduled snap elections for November. The petitioners demand that Parliament’s lower chamber be restored and opposition leader Sher Bahadur Deuba be appointed Prime Minister. [AiR No. 22, June/2021, 1]

Experts believe the verdict will set some precedents which will be crucial not only in defining the constitution but also in upholding and defending it. [The Kathmandu Post]

An insightful perspective is being provided by Sambridh Ghimire, who argues that the current crisis between executive and judiciary in Nepal is unprecedented. [The Diplomat]

29 June 2021

Nepal: President makes appointments to constitutional bodies while case is sub judice in court

(lm) Nepal’s President Bidya Devi Bhandari on June 24 appointed 20 chairs and members in various constitutional commissions without the parliamentary hearing mandated by the constitution, even though the case remains sub judice in the Supreme Court. [The Kathmandu Post]

Prior to the appointments, the KP Sharma Oli-led government on May 4 had issued an ordinance to enable the Constitutional Council (CC) – a key agency that appoints officials at various constitutional bodies – to achieve quorum if as few as three of its current five members attend a meeting.

The ordinance had originally been issued in December of last year, after which the CC had met with the newly reduced quorum and made 38 nominations to vacant positions on 11 constitutional bodies [see AiR No. 51, December/2020, 4]. But the ordinance then failed to get tabled in the inaugural session of the reinstated lower house of Parliament on March 7 – as mandated by the Constitution – and thus, had to be re-issued.

Further, as per the Constitution, a 15-member joint committee representing both chambers of Parliament is mandated to conduct hearings for the justices recommended by the Judicial Council and those recommended for appointment in constitutional bodies by the CC. But days after the CC had made its nominations to the vacant positions, Oli had dissolved Parliament’s lower house and announced snap elections, thereby effectively thwarting the vetting process [see AiR No. 51, December/2020, 4]. 

According to the regulations governing the work of parliamentary committees, there would be no obstruction for the recommended individuals to assume their positions in constitutional bodies if the hearing committee fails to take any decision within 45 days of receiving the list of nominees from the CC. Some experts, however, argue that this provision of the regulations comes into effect only after the hearing process begins.

 

29 June 2021

Nepal: Supreme Court scraps appointment of 20 ministers in blow to caretaker PM Oli

(lm) Nepal’s Supreme Court has delivered a fresh blow to embattled Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli by removing 20 recently appointed ministers, pending a ruling on whether a caretaker prime minister can make such sweeping Cabinet changes.

In May, Nepal’s President Bidya Devi Bhandari dissolved Parliament’s lower house and scheduled fresh elections for November, while letting Oli staying on as caretaker prime minister until the elections are held [see AiR No. 20, May/2021, 3]. In a bid to hold consolidate his power and ditch opponents within his own party, he earlier this month dropped most ministers from his Cabinet and named 20 replacements, most of them lawmakers for a new junior coalition partner, the People’s Socialist Party, Nepal [see AiR No. 23, June/2021, 2].

Responding to six different petitions filed against the expansion of the Cabinet, Nepal’s apex court on June 22 issued an interim order, observing that the ministerial appointments had been “against the spirit of the constitution,” as Oli was only a minority prime minister. The court’s removal of the 20 ministers means the Cabinet is left with just five members, including the prime minister. [The Kathmandu Post]

In related news, the Supreme Court on June 23 continued hearing dozens of petitions challenging the dissolution of the House, including one filed by 146 lawmakers from an opposition alliance that calls for the immediate restoration of the lower chamber, with Nepali Congress leader Sher Bahadur Deuba as the new prime minister [see AiR No. 22, June/2021, 1]. [Outlook India]

22 June 2021

Nepal: Factional feud in PSP-N intensifies

(lm) The factional feud in the People’s Socialist Party, Nepal, (PSP-N) continues to intensify, as both rivaling factions claim to hold the majority in the party’s Executive Committee (EC), and seek recognition from the Election Commission.

Last week, the EC refused to acknowledge the punitive action taken by PSP-N Co-Chairmen Upendra Yadav and Mahantha Thakur against each other. Both had removed each other from the party, alongside with some lawmakers. [The Himalayan Times 1]

On June 17, then, the Upendra Yadav-Baburam Bhattarai faction removed nine lawmakers representing the rivaling Thakur-Mahato faction of the party for joining the KP Sharma Oli-led government [see AiR No. 23, June/2021, 2]. The faction also submitted a petition to the Election Commission seeking recognition as the authentic PSP-N. [The Himalayan Times 2]

Importantly, the Yadaf-Bhattarai faction claims to hold the support of 31 out of 51 members of the party’s Executive Committee. The Thakur-Mahato faction, in turn, came out arguing that it had reshuffled the Committee as early as in May, when it expelled 20 members loyal to Yadav and Bhattarai and added an equal number of lawmakers close to them.

Justifying the decision, factional leaders cite agreement reached in December of last year, which allegedly authorizes the “first Co-chair of the party” – Mahantha Thakur – to reshuffle the Committee and write official letters to the government bodies concerned on behalf of the party. [The Himalayan Times 3]

22 June 2021

Nepal: Supreme Court stays citizenship ordinance

(lm) Nepal’s Supreme Court (SC) has issued an interim order to stay the implementation of the Citizenship Act Amendment Ordinance and issued a show cause notice to the government seeking a written reply within seven days. [The Himalayan Times 1]

In a bid to garner the support of the Madhesi-based People’s Socialist Party, Nepal, (PSP-N), a beleaguered Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli on May 23 recommended the issuance of the Nepal Citizenship (First Amendment) Ordinance 2021, after the issue had been on hold in the parliamentary State Affairs Committee for the last three years. [AiR No. 21, May/2021, 4]

According to the ordinance, citizenship by descent will be provided to children of citizens by birth. Further, citizenship will also be granted to children of Nepali mothers, if the fathers’ identities cannot be established. Thus, it is expected to especially affect ethnic Madhesi, i.e. people of Indian ancestry residing along Nepal’s southern plane, where cross-border marriage is particularly prevalent. Therefore, the SC’s stay on the implementation has caused a public outcry, mainly from eligible citizens who expressed their disappointment and frustration. [The Himalayan Times 2]

Rights organizations estimate that around 680,000 children of Nepali mothers would be eligible to obtain Nepali citizenship under the amendment. However, prior to the SC’s interim order, some of these organizations had expressed doubt regarding the implementation of the ordinance, highlighting procedural challenges for eligible citizens. [The Himalayan Times 3]

Importantly, the government issued the ordinance two days after the dissolution of parliament’s lower house and the announcement of snap elections for November. Thus, the ordinance had been challenged with as many as six petitions, arguing that the caretaker government has no authority to issue an ordinance that will have long-term effect.

In its decision, the court noted that while there are provisions for the government to introduce ordinances, these require limitations, as the legislature has the inherent right to make laws. As per Constitution, all ordinances must be passed by Parliament within 60 days after the day on which a meeting of both Houses is held, according to the constitution. [The Kathmandu Post]

22 June 2021

Nepal: Supreme Court orders government to file report on cabinet reshuffle

(lm) Nepal’s Supreme Court has issued an order seeking a written response from the Office of the President and the Office of the Prime Minister on its decision to reshuffle the Cabinet. Regular hearings on the case will resume from June 23, after the completion of the 15-day tenure provided by the court to the defendants to submit their response. [The Himalayan Times 1]

Caretaker Prime Minister Oli, who has been facing strong opposition from within his own his Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) against his move to dissolve the House of Representatives, removed some key ministers, including his Deputy Prime Minister Ishwor Pokharel and Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali in a Cabinet rejig on June 4. He also expanded his Cabinet with the inclusion of eight ministers and two ministers of state from a faction of the Madhesi-based People’s Socialist Party, Nepal, (PSP-N). [AiR No. 23, June/2021, 2]

Soon thereafter, six wit petitions had been filed seeking the annulment of the cabinet reshuffle, arguing that it was against the constitutional norms when the Parliament has already been dissolved and election dates have been fixed for November 12 and 19. The composition of the Constitutional Bench has been under constant scrutiny, first after being protested by the petitioners and later by PM Oli’s advocates, which has hampered regular commencement of hearings.

Meanwhile, an unfazed Oli, on June 10, appointed another eight new ministers, including seven cabinet ministers. Now, with the latest round of appointments, the council of ministers has a total of 22 cabinet ministers and three state ministers. [The Himalayan Times 2]

8 June 2021

Nepal: Prime Minister Oli reshuffles cabinet to include ten lawmakers from PSP-N

(lm) Days after meeting with factional leaders of the People’s Socialist Party, Nepal, (PSP-N), caretaker Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli has reshuffled his cabinet, removing all but four ministers of his Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) (CPN-UML) to include ten lawmakers of the PSP-N. [AiR No. 22, June/2021, 1] [The Indian Express]

PSP-N factional leader Rajendra Mahato has been appointed Minister for Urban Development. He also was offered to serve as one of three Deputy Prime Ministers, serving alongside sitting Finance Minister Bishnu Poudel and Raghubir Mahaseth, who was also appointed the new Minister of Foreign Affairs. [WION]

The Thakur-Mahato-led faction of the PSP-N decided to join the Oli-led minority government after the prime minister agreed to meet some of their key demands, including amending the Nepali Citizenship Act – which had been pending in parliament since August of 2018 [see AiR No. 21, May/2021, 4] – and withdrawal of criminal cases filed against 120 individuals associated with the PSP-N.

Opposition leader criticized the move, describing as a “mockery of constitution and democratic norms.” Moreover, a writ petition was filed at the Supreme Court to demand the nullification of the cabinet reshuffle, arguing that arguing that a caretaker prime minister did not have the executive power to reshuffle or induct new ministers. [The New Indian Express]

In related news, news justices have been appointed to the five-member bench of the country’s Supreme Court to hear the petition challenging the dissolution of parliament’s lower house. Earlier this month, Nepal’s chief justice had agreed to take a decision on the five-member bench’s composition, after lawyers representing the petitioners had questioned the bench’s impartiality [see AiR No. 22, June/2021, 1]. [The Hindu]

1 June 2021

India says Nepal’s political developments are its ‘internal matters’

(ad) India last week said recent political developments in Nepal, which resulted in President Bidya Devi Bhandari dissolving parliament and calling for fresh elections later this year, were “internal matters” of the Himalayan nation. New Delhi’s distant attitude towards Kathmandu’s deteriorating political situation comes off as a surprise, especially since India was seen competing with China over influence in the Himalayan nation. [The Wire]

Relations between the two countries have witnessed major ups and downs since Nepal’s Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli came to power in 2018. His efforts to move Nepal closer to China while retaining ties with India did not go down well in New Delhi, and bilateral ties derailed in May of last year, after India had announced the inauguration of a new Himalayan link road built through the disputed area of Kalapani that lies at a strategic three-way junction with Tibet and China. But since last August, relations between India and Nepal were again improving with increasing diplomatic exchanges between the two nations [for a summary see AiR No. 2, January/2021, 2]

1 June 2021

Nepal: Faction of People’s Socialist Party meets with Prime Minister Oli, seeks ordinance to split party

(lm) The third-largest party in Nepal’s House of Representatives, the People’s Socialist Party, Nepal, (PSP-N), appears to be on the brink of a split, as a factional feud in the party continues to intensify following the dissolution of parliament’s lower house earlier this month.

The PSP-N was formed in 2020 through the merger of the two key Madhesh based parties in Nepal, the Samajbadi Party, Nepal (SPN) and the Rastriya Janata Party Nepal (RJPN). Importantly, both factions have divergent views on whether the PSP-N should support the KP Sharma Oli-led government or help opposition parties form a new coalition government.

The dispute reached a climax when the faction led by former SPN leaders Baburam Bhattarai and Upendra Yadav supported a petition filed with the Supreme Court that called for the formation of a government under the leadership of opposition leader Sher Bahadur Deuba. [The Himalayan Times 1] [see article in this edition]

Against this backdrop, factional leaders Mahanta Thakur and Rajendra Mahato met with Prime Minister Oli on May 31, urging him to introduce an ordinance that would pave the way for splitting the PSP-N. [Khabarhub] [The Himalayan Times 2]

Importantly, while the Thakur-Mahato faction controls most PSP-N lawmakers in the House, it is in a minority in the party’s Central Committee. Thus, the Thakur-Mahato faction has so far not been able to secure an official decision from the PSP-N to join an Oli-led government. Further, the Political Parties Act requires a faction to secure at least 40 percent support in both the party’s parliamentary group and central committee to split a party.

But the prime minister rejected the idea, mindful that the law could potentially backfire on his own party, where factional leader Madhav Kumar Nepal is seeking to register a party of his own. [The Kathmandu Post] [see article in this edition]

1 June 2021

Nepal: Two journalists summoned by Supreme Court administration

(lm) The administration of Nepal’s Supreme Court is facing criticism after it summoned two journalists and pressured them to disclose their sources and apologize for the publication of a story about an alleged meeting on May 24 between Prime Minister Oli and the chief justice. [Amnesty International]

At the time, the Supreme Court was gearing up to hear writ petitions filed against President Bidya Devi Bhandari’s to dissolve the parliament and schedule snap elections. Prior to summoning the two editors, the SC issued a statement refuting the reports and warning of legal action if the misleading news was not corrected. [The Kathmandu Post]

 

1 June 2021

Nepal: Communist Party of PM Oli to face another split

(lm) Caretaker Prime Minister Oli is likely to face another split in his ruling Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) (CPN-UML), as a faction of the party is preparing to register a party of their own. [Deutsche Welle] [The Kathmandu Post 1]

Since last year, lawmakers close to CPN-UML senior leader Madhav Kumar Nepal have been accusing Prime Minister and party chairman Oli of authoritarianism and sidelining them when making decisions and appointing members to key commissions and watchdog bodies. During a meeting on earlier this month, however, both leaders had agreed to form a 10-member taskforce to iron out their differences [see AiR No. 20, May/2021, 3].

But on May 22, preceding President Bidya Devi Bhandari’s decision to dissolve the parliament and schedule snap elections [see AiR No. 21, May/2021, 4], the group threw its weight behind opposition leader Sher Bahadur Deuba’s claim to lead the country. Three days thereafter, then, the 23 lawmakers were among the more than 140, who gathered at the Supreme Court with a signed petition calling for the formation of a government under the leadership of opposition leader Deuba. [see article above]. [The Kathmandu Post 2]

In response, during a meeting of the party’s Standing Committee the same day, the Oli-led faction decided to oust eleven of the lawmakers from the CPN-UML, including Nepal, while seeking disciplinary action against another 12. [Online Khabar]

1 June 2021

Nepal: Supreme Court hears 30 writ petitions challenging dissolution of parliament’s lower house

(lm) Nepal’s Supreme Court (SC) on May 28 begun hearing 30 writ petitions filed against the dissolution of the lower house of parliament. Legal experts estimate that the judiciary may take anywhere from a few weeks to several months to reach a verdict. [The Himalayan Times 1] [The Kathmandu Post 1]

Nepal’s President Bidya Devi Bhandari on May 22 dissolved the parliament and scheduled snap elections, prompting court challenges and nationwide protests [see AiR No. 21, May/2021, 4]. 146 lawmakers, including 23 from Prime Minister Oli’s ruling party, filed a petition with the apex court three days thereafter, calling for the immediate restoration of Parliament, with Nepali Congress (NC) leader, Sher Bahadur Deuba, as the new prime minister.

On May 30, the third day of the hearings, Nepal’s chief justice agreed to take a decision on the five-member bench’s composition, after lawyers representing the petitioners had questioned the bench’s impartiality. [The Himalayan Times 1] [The Kathmandu Post 1]

This is the second time in less than six months that the SC negotiates the constitutional validity of the dissolution of parliament’s lower house. Earlier in February, the apex court initially ordered the reinstatement of the country’s parliament, overturning Prime Minister Oli’s decision from December of last year to dissolve the House of Representatives. [AiR No. 9, March/2021, 1]

25 May 2021

Nepal: Army forges deal with Chinese companies on expressway, ignores parliamentary committee

(lm) The Nepalese Army (NA) has awarded contracts to build sections of an expressway scheme to two Chinese companies despite a ruling from a parliamentary committee that the project should be halted over irregularities in the procurement process. [The Kathmandu Post]

The deal was to build tunnels and bridges for the Kathmandu-to-Terai Fast Track motorway, a $1 billion highway that will link the Nepalese capital Kathmandu with Nijgadh in the southern plains and cut travel time by about a third.

Last month, Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee directed the scrapping of the entire process after it had found the deal violated the competitive bidding process set out in the country’s 2015 Public Procurement Act. Some 22 companies expressed interest in bidding for the project, but the army considered only Poly Changda for the second package of work. The first package, which also involves tunnels and bridges, was awarded to China State Construction Engineering Corporation. The company bid unsuccessfully for the second package. [Global Construction Review]

25 May 2021

Nepal: President issues ordinance to amend citizenship act

(lm) President Bidya Devi Bhandari on May 23 issued an ordinance to amend the Nepali Citizenship Act at the recommendation of the Council of Ministers chaired by caretaker Prime Minister Oli.

As per the ordinance, citizenship by descent will be provided to offsprings of ‘bona fide’ citizens of Nepal, those owning citizenship by birthright. Further, the children whose mothers are Nepali citizens, but their fathers’ identities cannot be established, will be granted Nepali citizenship. [Business Standard] [The Himalayan Times]

The ordinance assumes added significance, because a bill to amend the Nepali Citizenship Act has been pending in parliament since August of 2018, with the prime minister’s now-defunct Nepal Communist Party (NCP) unwilling to pass the bill in the House.

In June of 2020, against the larger backdrop of border tension with neighboring India, the NCP re-introduced the long-dormant bill to parliament. At the time, the revised bill mandated foreign women married to Nepali men to wait seven years before becoming naturalized residents, while at the same time not granting Nepali women the right to similarly extend their citizenship to foreign husbands [AiR No. 26, June/2020, 5].

The amendment is expected to especially affect families living along the southern plane known as the Terai region, where cross-border marriage is particularly prevalent. Observers therefore believe the ordinance to be an attempt by the prime minister to appease a faction of the People’s Socialist Party, Nepal, (PSP-N), which represents the Madhesi, people of Indian ancestry residing in the Terai that make up about 20 percent of the country’s total population. [The Kathmandu Post]

Lawmakers close to leaders of the now-defunct Rastriya Janata Party Nepal (RJPN) stayed neutral when the trust motion tabled by the prime minister was put to vote in parliament’s lower house earlier this month [see AiR No. 19, May/2021, 2]. What is more, the faction then refused to support the opposition alliance of Nepali Congress (NC) and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) (CPN(M)), and thereby allowed Oli to lead a minority government, albeit temporarily [see AiR No. 20, May/2021, 3].

25 May 2021

Nepal: President dissolves parliament amid pandemic crisis, calls new elections for November

(lm) Nepal’s President Bidya Devi Bhandari on May 22 dissolved the parliament for the second time in five months, deepening a political crisis in the country. Opposition politicians expressed surprise, apparently daunted by the prospect of planning for an election while Nepal struggles with a devastating COVID-19 outbreak.

President Bhandari announced the move shortly after midnight, observing that neither caretaker Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli nor Sher Bahadur Deuba, leader of the opposition Nepali Congress (NC), had been able to demonstrate a majority to form a new government by the May 21 deadline set by Bhandari. New elections would be held in two phases on November 12 and 19. [The New York Times] [The Straits Times]

The statement also said that the decision was made on the recommendation of the cabinet headed by caretaker Prime Minister Oli, who had summoned an emergency meeting of the Council of Ministers close to midnight, immediately after the president had rejected claims of both the aspirants for the PM’s post – Oli and Deuba, citing their claims were short of required provisions. [The Himalayan Times 1] [The Himalayan Times 2]

Oli was reappointed as prime minister only two weeks ago as no leader could muster a majority after the veteran communist lost a vote of confidence. As the leader of a minority government, Oli was to prove he had the majority support of lawmakers within 30 days – a struggle since his own party had split and other parties were unwilling to support him. [AiR No. 20, May/2021, 3]

18 May 2021

Nepal Army to undergo reformations in organizational structure

(lm) The land service branch of the Nepalese Armed Forces, the Nepalese Army (NA), is set to reform its organizational structure as neighboring China and India are beefing up their military presence in areas bordering the country. [Khabarhub 1] [The Diplomat]

At present, the NA is divided into eight divisions – one each in the seven provinces and one in the Kathmandu Valley – in addition to another seven independent units, such as the Special Forces Brigade. The existing structure will be converted into four commands – Eastern, Central, Western and Valley Command – each of which will be equipped with an airbase, logistics base and a hospital. Already, for army generals have been appointed to head the new commands. [Khabarhub 2]

18 May 2021

Nepal: Supreme Court hears writ petition against reappointment of seven ministers

(lm) The Supreme Court will be hearing a writ petition seeking an order directing the government to relieve seven Cabinet ministers of their posts. The seven ministers had been reappointed by Prime Minister Oli on May 14, a day after he himself had been reappointed by President and ceremonial head of state Bidhya Devi Bhandari as the Prime Minister. [see article in this edition]. [Khabarhub]

The petitioners argue that the reappointments violate the Constitution, for Article 78 (1) – which allows the prime minister to appoint a person who is not a member of the federal parliament as a cabinet minister – would not apply. Specifically, the petitioners take the view that all seven ministers would now have to obtain membership of parliament to qualify for a ministerial post, because their original term had expired when the prime minister lost the vote of confidence on May 10. [The Himalayan Times]

18 May 2021

Nepal: Leaders of People’s Socialist Party, Nepal downplay possibility of vertical split

(lm) Leaders of the People’s Socialist Party, Nepal, (PSP-N) have ruled out any possibility of a split of the party, after the vote of confidence motion tabled by Prime Minister KP Oli last week had brought to the fore a rift between the two prominent factions in the party.

The PSP-N was formed in 2020 through the merger of the two key Madhesh based parties in Nepal, the Samajbadi Party, Nepal (SPN) and the Rastriya Janata Party Nepal (RJPN) [see AiR No. 28, July/2020, 2]. Madhesi are people of Indian ancestry residing in the Terai of Nepal that make up about 20 percent of the country’s total population.

Importantly, both factions have divergent views on whether the Party should support the KP Sharma Oli-led government or help opposition parties form a new coalition government. The rift came to the fore when 15 lawmakers close to leaders of the now-defunct RJPN stayed neutral when the trust motion tabled by the prime minister was put to vote in parliament’s lower house. 15 lawmakers of the now-defunct SPN, meanwhile, voted against the motion. [AiR No. 19, May/2021, 2]

But while Prime Minister Oli failed to secure a vote of confidence, attempts by the opposition alliance of Nepali Congress (NC) and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) (CPN(M)) to form a new coalition government failed, because the RJPN faction of the PSP-N refused to back the NC’s proposal. [see article above]

Against this backdrop, leaders of the PSP-N said that although the Party was divided over the proposed support to the government, no leader of the PSP-N was ready to split the party because both factions would be aware of the potential consequences, most notably a loss of political influence. [The Himalayan Times]

 

18 May 2021

Nepal: KP Sharma Oli reappointed as PM as opposition fails to secure majority

(lm) Nepal’s President and ceremonial head of state Bidhya Devi Bhandari administered the oath of office and secrecy to KP Sharma Oli on May 13, after opposition parties failed to secure a majority of seats in parliament’s lower house to form a new government. The Prime Minister will have to prove his majority within 30 days; failure to do so would result in the dissolution of the House and general elections. [Hindustan Times]

Oli was leading a caretaker government since May 10 after he was removed from his position as prime minister after losing a vote of confidence on May 10. Oli needed at least 136 votes in the 275-member House of Representatives to ensure a majority and save his government. But he only received 93 votes – 124 members voted against him. Given Oli’s failure to secure a vote of confidence, President Bhandari the same day put out a call to form a new government. [AiR No. 19, May/2021, 2]

But the opposition alliance of Nepali Congress (NC) and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) (CPN(M)) failed to gather a majority in a bid to present a claim to the government. The People’s Socialist Party, Nepal, (PSP-N) – whose 32 lawmakers hold the key for any future government – refused to form an alliance, paving the way for KP Sharma Oli to once again take charge.

Oli has already started rapprochement with the rivalling faction within his Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) (CPN-UML) led by his intraparty rival Madhav Kumar Nepal. During a meeting on May 16, both leaders agreed to form a 10-member taskforce to iron out their differences. 28 lawmakers close to Nepal had initially threatened to resign from the House of Representatives en masse, but instead abstained from voting on May 10 when the prime minister sought a vote of confidence. [The Himalayan Times]

11 May 2021

EU and India to boost trade, Indo-Pacific partnership

(lm) The European Union and India have agreed to resume long-stalled talks on a free trade deal, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced on May 8. Brussel and New Delhi will also launch negotiations on reciprocal investments and on the protection of so-called geographical indications. [South China Morning Post]

Earlier on May 8, the first EU-Indian Leaders’ Meeting brought together all 27 heads of the EU member states and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Considering that previous EU-India summits have involved only the Indian prime minister and the heads of the European Commission and the European Council, the recent summit signals the bloc’s renewed interest in the Indo-Pacific region. [Reuters]

Last month, the EU Council asked the European Commission and high representatives to draw up the bloc’s Indo-Pacific strategy by September this year. In doing so, the Council unveiled the strategy’s main thrust, which included exploring closer economic ties with India and pledging to foster a rules-based order with “free and open maritime supply routes in full compliance with international law”, without naming China.

Earlier last week, the EU also said that efforts to ratify the proposed EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) with China had been suspended after Beijing imposed sanctions on several high-profile members of the European Parliament, three members of national parliaments, two EU committees, and several China-focused European academics.

For a comprehensive examination of the decision, please consider Chris Devonshire-Ellis’ comment for [China Briefing].

11 May 2021

Nepal: Prime Minister Oli expected to resign after losing confidence vote

(lm) Nepali Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli lost a confidence vote in parliament on May 10, ending his attempt to demonstrate he has enough support to remain in office at a time when the country is battling a major second wave of coronavirus infections. President Bidhya Devi Bhandari asked the prime minister to lead a caretaker government while parties in parliament are expected to form a new government before May 13. [Reuters] [WION]

To pass the floor test successfully, Prime Minister Oli had to garner the support of at least 136 lawmakers in the 275-member House of Representatives, as four members are currently under suspension. The government was reduced to a minority government earlier last week after the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) (CPN(M)) – a key faction led by Oli’s archrival Pushpa Kama Dahal – withdrew its support on May 5. [NDTV]

But of 232 lawmakers present, only 93 backed Prime Minister Oli, while 124 voted against him; 15 lawmakers abstained from voting. But what is more, at least 28 members from Oli’s ruling Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) (CPN-UML) – all close to his intraparty rival Madhav Kumar Nepal – abstained and are likely to lose their seats in parliament’s lower house for defying the party whip. [The Himalayan Times]

But while both the CPN(M) and the Nepali Congress (NC) – Nepal’s biggest opposition party – have signaled their intention to form a new coalition government, they still require the support of the opposition People’s Socialist Party, Nepal, (PSP-N), whose 32 lawmakers hold the key for any future government. Importantly, there are two schools of thought in the PSP-N, with each faction controlling enough lawmakers to veto the formation of a new government [see AiR No. 13, March/2021, 5].

4 May 2021

Nepal: United Nations rapporteurs urge government to reverse appointments to human rights body

(lm) United Nations (UN) independent human rights experts have voiced serious concerns over recent appointments of new members to Nepal’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), which they said “undermined its independence, integrity and legitimacy”. The UN’s statement comes just a month after the NHRC had lashed out at three international rights organizations, which had voiced similar concerns [see AiR No. 11, March/2021, 3]. [The Himalayan Times] [UN News]

In December of last year, President Bidhya Devi Bhandari issued ordinance to enable the Constitutional Council (CC) – a key agency that appoints officials at various constitutional bodies – to achieve quorum of as few as three of its six members, including the prime minister, attend a meeting. Soon thereafter, the CC met with a newly reduced quorum and made 38 nominations to vacant positions on 11 constitutional bodies. These included all five seats on the NHRC, as well as nominations to bodies established to protect the rights of Dalits, women, and marginalized minorities, and to investigate corruption allegations. [AiR No. 51, December/2020, 4].

Since then, several writ petitions have been filed with the Supreme Court (SC) challenging the constitutional validity of the appointments, but the hearings are yet to take place. The crux of the matter: As per the constitutional provisions, the Chief Justice of Nepal is also a member of the CC, and thus is named as defendant in one of the petitions. While other members of the Constitutional Bench can recuse themselves, however, the Chief Justice does not have such right. [AiR No. 2, January/2021, 2]

 

4 May 2021

Nepal: Prime Minister Oli seeks vote of confidence in parliament’s lower house

(lm) Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli is set to face a vote of confidence during a special session of the House of Representatives, which has been summoned for May 10 by President Bidhya Devi Bhandari. Oli announced his decision during a meeting of the Council of Ministers on May 2. Importantly, if a no-confidence motion fails, a new one may only be registered a year later, as per the constitution. [The Himalayan Times]

To get through the floor test successfully, the prime minister must garner the support of a minimum of 138 members of the 275-member lower house of parliament. As the chairman of the ruling Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) (CPN-UML), Oli currently controls 121 lawmakers. To preempt supporters of his intraparty rival Madhav Kumar Nepal from changing fronts, Prime Minister Oli earlier this month entrusted the CPN-UML’s newly constituted Standing Committee to initiate disciplinary action against as many as 27 lawmakers from the Nepal-led faction [see AiR No. 17, April/2021, 4].

As of now, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) (CPN(M) of Oli’s archrival Pushpa Kamal Dahal is yet to officially withdraw its support from the government following the verdict of the Supreme Court in February, which had scrapped the then ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) and revived the two predecessor parties that had joined hands in 2018 to form the NCP. The CPN(M) controls 53 seats in the House, four of which have recently been suspended.

With 63 lawmakers, the opposition Nepali Congress (NC) – the second-largest party in the House – had emerged as a virtual kingmaker: Both CPN-UML and CPN(M) could form the government on the majoritarian principle with the support of the NC [see AiR No. 11, March/2021, 3]. But while both the CPN(M) and the NC have signaled their intention to move a no-trust motion against the prime minister [see AiR No. 14, April/2021, 1], opposition parties have failed to reach a consensus to form the next government.

The opposition People’s Socialist Party, Nepal, (PSP-N), whose 32 lawmakers hold the key for any future government, is yet to align itself with either the prime minister or the opposition. Against this backdrop, two days prior to Oli’s announcement, NC President Sher Bahadur Deuba said his party would not register a no-confidence motion against the prime minister, citing a lack of support. [The Kathmandu Post]

 

27 April 2021

Nepal: Prime Minister Oli tightens grip on ruling party, sidelines intraparty rivals

(lm) All signs indicate that the ruling Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) (CPN-UML) is headed for a vertical split, as party chairman and Prime Minister has taken actions to sideline lawmakers close to his intraparty rival Madhav Kumar Nepal. [The Kathmandu Post 1]

On April 23, the prime minister used a meeting of an intraparty committee to reconstitute the party’s Standing Committee, which had originally been dissolved following the post-election merger of the CPN-UML and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) (CPN(M)) in 2018 [see AiR (4/2/2018)]. The move to reconstitute the party’s highest decision-making body came a day after two back-to-back meetings between the prime minister and Nepal, during which both factional leaders refused to budge an inch.

Significantly, the 19-member Committee does not include a single lawmaker close to Nepal, who the prime minister accuses of having teamed up with his archrival, CPN(M) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, to oust him from both government and leadership of the now-defunct Nepal Communist Party (NCP). But what is more, the Committee does include the four former leaders of the CPN(M) who were recently reappointed as ministers in the Oli-led Cabinet [see AiR No. 15, April/2021, 2].

On April 25, then, Prime Minister Oli entrusted the newly constituted Standing Committee to initiate disciplinary action against as many as 27 lawmakers from the Nepal-led faction, some of whom had defied to toe the party line during a vote of confidence against a local chief minister earlier this month. In response, the lawmakers filed a writ petition with the Supreme Court, arguing they could not be removed as lawmakers for they had not violated any legal provisions. [The Kathmandu Post 2]

Coming against the larger backdrop of a looming no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Oli in the House of Representatives, the move is to be considered a preemptive decision aimed at forestalling members of the rivaling faction from changing fronts.

But while both the CPN(M) and the Nepali Congress (NC) – Nepal’s biggest opposition party – have signaled their intention to move a no-trust motion against the prime minister [see AiR No. 14, April/2021, 1], the formation of a new government coalition is currently in limbo. For the opposition People’s Socialist Party, Nepal, (PSP-N), whose 32 lawmakers hold the key for any future government, is yet to align itself with either the prime minister or the opposition. [The Himalayan Times]

 

13 April 2021

Nepal: President reappoints four ministers, a day after their removal from Parliament

(lm) President Bidya Devi Bhandari on April 9 reappointed four former leaders of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) (CPN(M)) as ministers in the KP Sharma Oli-led Cabinet, a day after they had lost their parliamentary membership for defecting from their party. [myRepublica]

Initially, all four ministers had lost their posts on April 8, after the CPN(M) – under which they had contested elections in 2018 – had suspended them as lawmakers of Parliament’s lower house. Following the Supreme Court (SC)’s ruling, which earlier in March had declared the 2018 post-election merger of the now-defunct Nepal Communist Party (NCP) void ab initio [see AiR No. 10, March/2021, 2], the four lawmakers had been siding with the prime minister’s Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) (CPN-UML), and had also been accepted as members of the party’s Central Committee. [The Indian Express] [The Himalayan Times]

According to Article 78 (1) of the Constitution, the prime minister may appoint a person who is not a member of the federal parliament as a cabinet minister. However, such a person is required to obtain membership of parliament within six months of the oath-taking. Based on this constitutional provision, the four lawmakers can remain in the Oli-led Cabinet until October. The current cabinet has 22 ministers – a third of which is not a member of the federal parliament. [The Kathmandu Post]

 

13 April 2021

Nepal: Foreign investment pledges fall by more than 12 percent as commitments from India plummet

(lm) Pledges of foreign direct investment (FDI) in Nepal have dropped significantly, falling almost 12.7 percent year-on-year in the first nine months of the current fiscal year. Strikingly, while investment commitment from China topped the list of foreign investment source countries, increasing slightly compared to the same period last fiscal year, the year-on-year investment from India dropped by a whopping 81 percent. [The Kathmandu Post]

Beijing has been leading FDI pledges to Nepal for the last five years, with Chinese FDI accounting for two-thirds or more than $220 million of Kathmandu’s total committed FDI during the previous fiscal year. For a comprehensive analysis of deepening Sino-Nepal relations, in particular their geopolitical implications, please consider Dhanwati Yadav’s analysis for The Jamestown Foundation.

 

6 April 2021

Nepal: Key opposition party Nepali Congress takes lead to form new government

(lm) Nepal’s biggest opposition party, the Nepali Congress (NC), has officially announced that it would attempt to form the next government, making a U-turn on the party’s president’s earlier decision to ensure a victory in a potential mid-term election, rather than seeking to topple Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s government. [The Kathmandu Post]

The decision – made by the NC’s Central Working Committee on April 3 – comes after CPN(M) chairman and archrival of Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, Pushpa Kama Dahal, had earlier announced that his party would withdraw its support from the government [see AiR No. 13, March/2021, 5].

While both NC and CPN(M) have signaled their intention move a no-trust motion against the prime minister in the House of Representatives, forming a new government coalition is not going to be a walk in the park. This is because the opposition People’s Socialist Party, Nepal, (PSP-N), whose 32 lawmakers hold the key for any future government, is yet to align itself with either the prime minister or the opposition.

30 March 2021

Nepal: CPN(M) withdraws its support from government, seeks support from opposition parties

(lm) Chairman of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) (CPN(M)), Pushpa Kama Dahal, announced on March 27 his party would withdraw its support from the government. Further elaborating, Dahal explained he would seek to forge consensus with Nepal’s two major opposition parties – the People’s Socialist Party, Nepal, (PSP-N) and the Nepali Congress (NC) – to ensure that Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli does not pass a no-trust motion. [The Himalayan Times 1]

Against the backdrop of the CPN(M)’s decision, Prime Minister Oli’s Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) (CPN-UML) has to garner the support of at least another 17 lawmakers of the 275-member House of Representatives to pass the floor test successfully. With 63 lawmakers, the NC — the second-largest party in the House — has emerged as a virtual kingmaker: Both CPN-UML and CPN(M) could form the government on the majoritarian principle with the support of the NC [see AiR No. 11, March/2021, 3].

The PSP-N, meanwhile, is yet to align itself with either the prime minister or is archrival Dahal. Notably, there are two schools of thought in the party, which represents the Madhesi, people of Indian ancestry residing in the Terai of Nepal that make up about 20 percent of the country’s total population. While the first argues the PSP-N should support the party that would fulfill their demands, the other faction reasons that the PSP-N should not allow Prime Minister Oli to remain in power. [The Himalayan Times 2]

23 March 2021

Nepal: Opposition Nepali Congress not actively working towards forming a government

(lm) While calls have been growing within the Nepali Congress (NC) to actively work towards forming a new government, the party’s President and former Prime Minister, Sher Bahadur Deuba, said on March 21 his NC would focus on ensuring a victory in a potential mid-term election, rather than seeking to topple Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s government. [The Himalayan Times 1]

Two days prior to Deuba’s remarks, the party’s General-Secretary claimed that his NC would form a new coalition government with the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) (CPN(M)) and the People’s Socialist Party, Nepal, (PSP-N) once the two parties have indicated their support for the NC. Furthermore, a meeting of the NC’s faction led by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Ram Chandra Poudel, decided on March 21 to pressure Deuba to actively work towards unseating the prime minister. [The Himalayan Times 2] [The Kathmandu Post]

To become prime minister, Deuba requires the support of lawmakers from both Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s CPN(M) of as well as from the PSP-N. However, the CPN(M) is yet to officially withdraw its support from the coalition government, almost a month after the Supreme Court (SC) had declared the 2018 post-election merger of the now-defunct Nepal Communist Party (NCP) void ab initio [see AiR No. 10, March/2021, 2].

23 March 2021

China visas only to those Nepalis getting Chinese covid vaccine

(lm) In a bid to pressure the Nepali government into approving the Chinese-made Sinopharm vaccine, the Chinese embassy in Kathmandu has announced it would provide visa only to those who have been fully vaccinated with China-made COVID-19 vaccines. [Midday]

Though the Nepalese government in mid-February had approved the emergency use of a COVID-19 vaccine developed by an affiliate of China’s Sinopharm, a lack of proper documentation of trial results and logistic issues had prevented a rollout for larger public use.

Thus, the only vaccine cleared for public use is India’s Covishield (the local name for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine developed in the United Kingdom). Besides China’s Sinopharm two other vaccines – Russia’s Sputnik V and one made by India’s Bharat Biotech – are also awaiting clearance from Nepal’s drug regulator.

Nepal, which has reported just over 3,000 deaths from the pandemic, has attracted vaccine donations from China and India as the pair vie for influence in the country. It also received 348,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine through the World Health Organization (WHO)’s COVAX vaccine-sharing scheme.

16 March 2021

Nepal: Government signs peace accord with banned Maoist splinter group

(lm) The Nepalese government has signed a peace agreement with the Communist Party of Nepal (CPN), an outlawed Maoist breakaway faction of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) (CPN(M)) known for its violent activities. [Al Jazeera]

Under the three-point agreement, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s government agreed to lift a ban on the group, release all their party members and supporters in jail and drop all legal cases against them, while the group agreed to give up all violence and resolve any issues through peaceful dialogue.

Founded in 2014, the CPN is led by Netra Bikram Chand (also known by his nom de guerre Biplav), who served as one of the two main militant commanders of Pushpa Kamal Dahal during the Nepalese Civil War between 1996 and 2006 [see also AiR No. 45, November/2020, 2]. In 2019, Prime Minister Oli’s government declared the CPN a criminal outfit over the party’s alleged involvement in bombings, extortion and killing of civilians.

16 March 2021

Nepal: National Human Rights Commission lashes out at international rights organizations

(lm) The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has lashed out at three international rights organizations, accusing them of interfering in the internal affairs of a sovereign nation and undermining the country’s judiciary. [The Himalayan Times

Human Rights Watch, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), and Amnesty International on March 1 had issued a press release, calling on Nepal’s government to immediately withdraw last year’s executive order that enabled the Constitutional Council (CC) to achieve quorum if as few as three of its six members, including the prime minister, attend a meeting. The CC is a key agency that appoints officials to the judiciary, the NHRC, and other constitutional bodies including the Election Commission. [Human Rights Watch]

On December 15, 2020, the CC had met with a newly reduced quorum and made 38 nominations to vacant positions on 11 constitutional bodies at that meeting. They included all five seats on the NHRC, as well as nominations to bodies established to protect the rights of Dalits, women, and marginalized minorities, and to investigate corruption allegations [see AiR No. 51, December/2020, 4]. Since then, different political parties and even a faction in the then ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) had cried foul over the appointments, and writs have been filed at the Supreme Court (SC) challenging the constitutional validity of the appointments [see AiR No. 2, January/2021, 2].

Nepalese observers pointedly remark that the posts in the constitutional bodies had been lying vacant for a long time, thus hampering effective implementation of the rule of law and service delivery. Because the seat of the Deputy Speaker is vacant, absence of any of the remaining five members – Chief Justice, Speaker, Deputy Speaker, National Assembly Chair and leader of the main opposition – would effectively cripple the CC. [The Himalayan Times]

16 March 2021

Nepal: Communist factions in talks to form government; PM Oli purges party

(lm) After the recent ruling by Nepal’s Supreme Court (SC), declaring the 2018 post-election merger of the now-defunct Nepal Communist Party (NCP) void ab initio, the four major parties in the House of Representatives are jostling to cobble up an alliance to form a government.

At present, Prime Minister Oli’s government is still built upon a coalition between his Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) (CPN-UML) and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) (CPN(M) of his rival Pushpa Kamal Dahal, which is yet to officially withdraw its support. In this case, Prime Minister Oli’s CPN-UML would require the support from either of the country’s two major opposition parties – the People’s Socialist Party, Nepal, (PSP-N) or the Nepali Congress (NC) – to successfully pass a floor test and to form a coalition government. [The Kathmandu Post 1]

To tighten its grip on the party, the CPN-UML’s establishment faction led by Prime Minister Oli called a special meeting of the party’s Central Committee on March 12 and removed leaders of the faction led by Madhav Kumar Nepal from key posts they had held before the CPN-UML’s 2018 merger with the CPN(M). In response, Nepal, who had teamed up with CPN(M) chairman Dahal to oust Prime Minister Oli from both government and leadership of the now-defunct NCP, wrote a letter to the Election Commission on March 14, urging it not to implement the decisions taken by the establishment faction. Notably, Nepal’s faction cannot split from the CPN-UML, as it does not have the required strength in the party’s Central Committee. [The Himalayan Times 1] [The Himalayan Times 2]

Meanwhile, NC, CPN(M) and PSP-N are also exploring the possibility of forming a coalition government of their own. CPN(M) chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal again met with NC President Sher Bahadur Deuba on March 9, after he had previously already offered him the premiership. The same day, Dahal also met with the chairman of the PSP-N. [The Himalayan Times 3]

Further, Dahal has proposed to drop the ‘Maoist Center’ from the CPN(M)’s name so that other political forces in the country may find it easier to join hands. [The Himalayan Times 4]

Against this backdrop, there is a good case to believe that much depends on the political strategy of NC President Deuba. Should he refrain from forming a coalition government with either Prime Minister Oli’s CPN-UML or the other two opposition parties, a mid-term election is inevitable. [The Kathmandu Post 2]

 

9 March 2021

Nepal: Hit by COVID-19 curbs, country’s economy contracts for first time in decades

(lm) Due to a months-long lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus, Nepal’s economy shrank by 1.99 percent in the last fiscal year ending July 15 – marking the first contraction in four decades. What is more, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to tear through the fabric of Nepal’s domestic economy, the government is considering increasing the issuance of debt in both domestic and external markets to revive its economy. As a result of the changes in the volume and composition of public debt, the share of government revenues devoted to debt service is expected to increase from 24.4 percent in 2019 to 28.5 per cent in 2022. [Eurodad] [The Straits Times]

Only five years have passed since the massive 7.8 magnitude earthquake in Nepal that left almost 9,000 people dead, 800,000 homes destroyed and cost an estimated $10 billion. At the time, Nepal’s foreign debt stood at $3.8 billion. Since then, notably the country’s transition to Federalism and the coronavirus pandemic have caused the country’s debt to nearly triple – now amounting to more than $8.5 billion.

At the same time, fiscal revenues are projected to decline even further, with the Finance Ministry now targeting $7.9 billion compared to the initially targeted $8.6 billion. In the last fiscal year, the government had only collected little over 75 percent ($7.2. billion) of its targeted revenue ($9.4 billion). [The Kathmandu Post]

9 March 2021

Nepal: Parliament resumes session

(lm) After being reinstated by the country’s Supreme Court (SC) [see AiR No. 9, March/2021, 1], Nepal’s Parliament reconvened on March for a session that will likely determine the future of Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli and the government. [The Himalayan Times]

Lawmakers close to Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Madhav Kumar Nepal – rivals of Prime Minister Oli’s – staged a walkout to protest the tabling of an ordinance on the Constitutional Council Act. First introduced in December last year, the ordinance enables the Constitutional Council (CC), a key agency that appoints officials at various constitutional bodies, to achieve quorum if as few as three of its six members, including the prime minister, attend a meeting [see AiR No. 51, December/2020, 4].

9 March 2021

Nepal: Supreme Court annules unification of ruling NCP

(lm) In a surprise ruling, the Supreme Court (SC) on March 7 scrapped the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) and revived the two predecessor parties that had joined hands in 2018 to form the NCP. The decision came just hours before the country’s lower house of Parliament was scheduled to reconvene [see article below]. [The Hindu]

In its ruling, the SC found that the name “Nepal Communist Party” was already allotted to the Communist Party of Nepal, which was formed five years prior to the post-election merger of the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) (CPN-UML) and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) (CPN(M) in 2018 [see AiR (4/2/2018)]. Thus, the allocation of the name upon the merger, and by extension the merger itself, were declared void ab initio.

There is a good case to believe that the judicial intervention will strengthen Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, who was dealt a political blow earlier this month when the SC had ordered the reinstatement of the country’s Parliament [see AiR No. 9, March/2021, 1]. While pressure was mounting on the prime minister to resign on moral grounds, Oli had already made clear that he would face a no-confidence motion in Parliament. Importantly, to get through the floor test successfully, he must garner the support of a minimum of 138 members of the 275-member House of Representatives.

Against the backdrop of the recent SC ruling, Prime Minister Oli, as the leader of the CPN-UML, controls 121 lawmakers, while is rival Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who is leading the CPN(M), controls 53 members of parliament’s lower house. With 63 lawmakers, the Nepali Congress (NC) — the second-largest party in the House — has emerged as a virtual kingmaker. Both CPN-UML and CPN(M), could form the government on the majoritarian principle with the support of the NC. Dahal already offered the premiership to Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba, who declined insisting he would support neither faction until the ruling NCP officially splits.

2 March 2021

Nepal: Growing number of Nepali activists face online abuse for protesting against rape and violence

(lm) An increasing number of female activists has been the target of extreme defaming, demeaning, and even rape threats for raising their voices against widespread cases of rape and violence against women in Nepal. Campaigners criticize that proper implementation of the law which supposed to deter online harassment is lacking, adding that many women are reluctant to reveal their identity. [The Kathmandu Post]

Many activists in the past some months have come out on the streets to protest and demand justice after the rape and murder of a teenage girl drew attention to a rise in sexual assault cases. The protests also took place against the backdrop of a recent proposal by the Department of Immigration that women under the age of 40 to have permission from the male members of their families and local governments – among other requirements – to travel abroad. [AiR No. 7, February/2021, 3]

 

2 March 2021

Nepal: Oppositional Nepali Congress Party emerges as potential kingmaker

(lm) Factional leaders of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Madhav Kumar Nepal have met with Sher Bahadur Deuba, the current President of Nepal’s largest opposition party, the Nepali Congress (NC). The meeting assumes added significance, coming as it does in the wake of the recent ruling of the Supreme Court overturning Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s decision to dissolve the House of Representatives [see article above].

While pressure is mounting on the prime minister to resign on moral grounds, Oli has already made clear that he would face a no-confidence motion in Parliament when legislators reconvene. Importantly, to get through the floor test successfully, he must garner the support of a minimum of 138 members of the 275-member House of Representatives. Presently, however, his faction of the NCP only has around 83 lawmakers on his side while the rivaling Dahal-Nepal faction controls 90 lawmakers. [The Kathmandu Post]

With 63 lawmakers, the NC — the second-largest party in the House — has emerged as a virtual kingmaker. Any of the two factions of the NCP could form the government on the majoritarian principle with the support of the NC. Already, both Dahal and Nepal have publicly given statements of their will to support NC President Sher Bahadur Deuba as the PM candidate. [The Hindu] [The Diplomat]

The split of the NCP, which was born out of a post-election merger of the CPN-UML (Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist)) and the Maoist Centre in 2018 [see AiR (4/2/2018)], however, is yet to be formally acknowledged by the country’s Election Commission (EC) [see AiR No. 4, January/2021, 4]. [The Himalayan Times]

Alternatively, thus, the NC’s 63 lawmakers could join hands with the 32 lawmakers from Nepal’s other major opposition party, Janata Samajwadi Party-Nepal (JSP-N). However, the NC, too, is deeply marred by factionalism with senior leaders openly disagreeing with each other [see AiR No. 5, February/2021, 1]. [The Kathmandu Post]

Against this backdrop, it is worth recalling that a Chinese delegation dispatched in the wake of the dissolution of Parliament’s lower house had held meetings with leaders from both NC and JSP-N, testing the water for cross-party support of a Dahal-led NCP. The team also reached out to the next generation of NCP leaders from both camps to get them to nudge their seniors to keep the party united. [AiR No. 1, January/2021, 1]

2 March 2021

Nepal: House of Representatives summoned for 7 March, following its reinstatement by Supreme Court

(lm) President Bidya Devi Bhandari has summoned the House of Representatives for March 7 following a Supreme Court ruling from February 23, which ordered the reinstatement of the country’s Parliament, pushing Nepal into another round of political instability. [The Hindu] [The Kathmandu Post] [Al Jazeera]

The court order comes two months after Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli plunged Nepal into a political crisis by deciding to dissolve the country’s lower house of parliament and to call for snap elections 18 months ahead of schedule – a controversial move following prolonged internal disputes within his ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) [see AiR No. 51, December/2020, 4]. The decision means that Mr. Oli will likely face a no-confidence motion when legislators reconvene.

The prime minister had defended his decision, describing it as a ‘purely political’ move that did not warrant a judicial review [see AiR No. 3, January/2021, 3]. According to Oli, continuous infightings in the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) had paralyzed both government and Parliament. He also argued that that the resumption of the winter session of the National Assembly was proof that he did not have any mala fide intention in dissolving parliament’s lower house [see AiR No. 52, December/2020, 5].

The court’s decision was welcomed by the opposition as well as members of the dissident faction of the prime minister’s NCP. Since Parliament’s dissolution in December, there have been regular street protests against Oli by tens of thousands of people in Kathmandu and other cities [see e.g. AiR No. 6, February/2021, 2].

16 February 2021

Nepal: Rivals of Prime Minister Oli hold rally in Kathmandu

(lm) Factional leaders of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP), Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Madhav Kumar Nepal,on February 9 asked their supporters to gather in the capital Kathmandu valley for a scheduled rally the following day. What is more, Dahal also said the faction might boycott the snap elections proposed for April and May, saying the “undemocratic and unconstitutional” elections were not acceptable. [South Asia Monitor 1] [South Asia Monitor 2]

Nepal last December plunged into a political crisis after Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli dissolved the country’s lower house of parliament and proposed to hold snap elections on April 30 and May 10 this year, more than a year earlier than the expected vote in November 2022. The decision to dissolve parliament’s lower house has been challenged at the Supreme Court; its hearing is still ongoing [see AiR No. 51, December/2020, 4].

In the wake of Prime Minister Oli’s controversial move, which emerged from a prolonged tussle for power between him and his rival Dahal [see AiR No. 51, December/2020, 4], the NCP witnessed a de facto split. Since then, the two factions have descended on streets, with both factions staking claim on the NCP, which was born out of a post-election merger of the CPN-UML (Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist)) and the Maoist Centre in 2018 [see AiR (4/2/2018)]. A petition to formally acknowledge the split is still pending in the Election Commission [see AiR No. 4, January/2021, 4].

Last week, the Dahal-Nepal faction had called for a nationwide general strike in Nepal. During the strike, incidents of violence and arson were also reported. In an effort to discredit the strike, Prime Minister Oli announced compensation for those who suffered losses, during his last rally in Kathmandu on February 5. [see AiR No. 6, February/2021, 2]

16 February 2021

Nepal: Leader of rivalling faction of ruling Communist Party briefly arrested

(lm) A leader of the Pushpa Kamal Dahal-Madhav Kumar Nepal faction of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) was released five hours after she had been arrested for derogatory remarks against President Bidhya Devi Bhandari. The woman said she was targeted for raising her voice against the allegedly unconstitutional move of President Bhandari and Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli dissolving the lower house of parliament. If found guilty for the crime against the state, a person is liable to a maximum of seven years of jail or $600 fine or both. [The Himalayan Times]

16 February 2021

Nepal: Hundreds protest in Kathmandu against government’s apathy towards violence against women

(lm) The government of Prime Minister KP Oli, already cornered after the split within the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP), appears now to have antagonized the public further with a proposal on travel restrictions for women, and inaction on rape cases.

On February 12, hundreds of Nepalis staged a mock funeral procession in the capital Kathmandu after the rape and murder of a teenage girl drew attention to a rise in sexual assault cases. More than 2,200 rape cases were reported in Nepal last year, according to the police, up from fewer than 1,000 in 2015. Campaigners, however, say the statistics only captures a small fracture of the true number of cases of sexual violence against women, as many victims are reluctant to report sexual assaults to the police. [South China Morning Post]

The protests also took place against the backdrop of a recent proposal by the Department of Immigration that women under the age of 40 to have permission from the male members of their families and local governments – among other requirements – to travel abroad. [Human Rights Watch]

The government issued a press release after widespread condemnation on social media, clarifying that the provision of women needing permission was only applicable to those travelling alone for the first time to the Gulf or Africa. But that did not satisfy protestors, who said the government had only ‘backtracked’ in the face of opposition, adding that the new proposal, in addition to rules already in place, would discriminate based on gender and age. [Nepali Times]

 

9 February 2021

Nepal: Government plans to set up six industrial zones across the country

(lm) Nepal’s Finance Ministry will be providing funds for the establishment of six industrial zones across the country, the finance minister said earlier this month. While half of the zones will be paid for by the government, Kathmandu will seek funding from foreign investors to construct the remaining three. [The Kathmandu Post]

The announcement comes at a time when Kathmandu has made public its intentions to establish four cross-border economic zones – two each along the borders with India and China –to boost trade and investment with the two neighboring countries. [AiR No. 3, January/2021, 3]

9 February 2021

Nepal: Rivalling factions of ruling Nepal Communist Party call for national strike, hold mass protest

(lm) The faction of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) led by Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli displayed a show-of-strength in Kathmandu on February 5, as tens of thousands of people protested in support of the prime minister’s move to dissolve parliament [see AiR No. 51, December/2020, 4]. [The Himalayan Times 1]

The previous day, the NCP’s faction led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Madhav Kumar Nepal declared a nationwide strike to ramp up opposition after protests had swelled since December, with protesters and police clashing. At least 77 protesters were arrested in the capital for obstruction and vandalism.

Timing and context of the recent protests are noteworthy: On February 3, senior officials appointed to various constitutional bodies, including commissions on human rights and investigations into abuse of authority, were sworn into office. These officials were initially appointed on December 15, during a meeting of the Constitutional Council (CC), a key agency that appoints officials at various constitutional bodies. Earlier that day, Prime Minister Oli had introduced an ordinance on the Constitutional Council Act, enabling the CC to achieve quorum if as few as three of its six members, including the prime minister, attend a meeting [see AiR No. 51, December/2020, 4]. [Anadolu Agency] [Al Jazeera] [The Kathmandu Post 1]

Since then, three separate petitions have been filed at the Supreme Court challenging the constitutional validity of the recommendations made by the CC [see AiR No. 2, January/2021, 2]. [The Kathmandu Post 2] [The Straits Times]

2 February 2021

Nepal plans to deregulate oil business, prepares new petroleum law

(lm) Nepal’s government is reportedly gearing up to enact a new petroleum law aimed at deregulating the country’s lucrative oil market. Currently, no company is allowed to import, store and distribute various petroleum products other than the Nepal Oil Corporation (NOC), a state-owned trading enterprise. [The Kathmandu Post]

While early attempts to deregulate the country’s oil market had failed, the government now may have another rationale behind the need for a new law: Imports of petroleum products accounted for more than 15 percent (i.e., $1,850 billion) of the country’s total import bill in the 2018-2019 fiscal year.

But what is more, earlier this month, a delegation from India’s largest commercial oil company, Indian Oil Corporation visited Kathmandu to lay the groundwork for the construction of the second cross-border petroleum pipeline. In September 2018, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli and his Indian counterpart Prime Minister Narendra Modi had jointly inaugurated the first Nepal-India cross-border petroleum pipeline, the first in South Asia.

 

2 February 2021

India, China using vaccine diplomacy to deepen bilateral ties around the world

(lm) China will be providing 300,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Chinese state-owned company Sinopharm under grand assistance to Nepal, Beijing’s embassy to Kathmandu announced on February 1. [The Himalayan Times]

Timing and context of the announcement are noteworthy: As part of its unprecedented Vaccine Maitri (Vaccine Friendship) campaign, India ten days earlier had sent one million doses of COVID-19 vaccine to Kathmandu, marking the launch of nationwide inoculation drive in the Himalayan country. Following in the wake of the sixth meeting of the India-Nepal Joint Commission, the gesture came at a time when bilateral relations between India and Nepal continue to see an upwards trajectory, after they had initially derailed in May last year [see AiR No. 2, January/2021, 2]. [Reuters]

But what is more, they also take place against the larger backdrop of determined efforts by India to utilize its vast manufacturing capacity to bolster bilateral ties. While commercial overseas shipments are likely to start around March, India has already shipped free consignments of Covishield (the local name for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine developed in the United Kingdom) doses to Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Myanmar, and Nepal, as well as to its key Indian Ocean partners, Mauritius and Seychelles. Sri Lanka began receiving vaccine consignments earlier this month and Afghanistan will do so after it has completed regulatory clearance procedures. [The Diplomat]

The shipments reflect one of India’s unique strengths: It is home to a robust vaccine industry, including the Serum Institute of India, one of the world’s largest vaccine makers. The country, therefore, has a long track record of supplying medicines and vaccines to the rest of the world, especially to low- and middle-income countries. [Washington Post] [Financial Times]

These efforts put India in direct competition with China, which has made no secret that vaccine distribution is wrapped up in its broader geopolitical ambitions. For it has explicitly included vaccine distribution in its broader Health Silk Road initiative, which aims to bolster China’s international soft power. To this end, Chinese companies have made an aggressive international push to sell their COVID-19 vaccines, with Sinopharm and Beijing-based biopharmaceutical company Sinovac signing deals with more than a dozen countries. [Observer Research Foundation] [South China Morning Post]

A case in point, China’s “all-weather friend” Pakistan received on February 1 a free shipment of half a million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine, as Islamabad is set to launch its vaccination drive this week, starting with frontline health workers. What is more, Pakistan is due to receive a further 1.1 million doses from China by the end of this month; up to 6.8 million doses are due to arrive before the end of March. [Al Jazeera] [The Straits Times]

 

2 February 2021

Nepal: Nepali Congress announces fresh round of protests against dissolution of parliament’s lower house

(lm) Nepal’s largest opposition party, the Nepali Congress (NC), announced on January 26 a fresh round of protests against Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s decision to dissolve the lower house of parliament and call for snap elections [see AiR No. 51, December/2020, 4]. A meeting of the party’s Central Working Committee held earlier that day shed light on the NC’s intraparty fault lines, pitching an anti-establishment faction against the party’s president, who wants to wait for the Supreme Court’s verdict. [The Kathmandu Post 1]

Interestingly, this is not the first time the NC’s leadership has been reluctant to announce protests. Earlier this month the party’s president also refused to hold a joint protest with the country’s other major opposition party, Janata Samajwadi Party-Nepal (JSP-N). It was only after facing heavy criticism that the NC had organized rallies at the federal constituency, provincial constituency, municipal and ward level [see AiR No. 1, January/2021, 1].

Separately, the blatant use of force by the police on civic protesters earlier has drawn criticisms from all sections of society. On January 25, police charged batons and used water cannons to disperse protesters who were marching towards the prime minister’s residence. At least 26 demonstrators were arrested. [The Himalayan Times] [The Kathmandu Post 2] [Macau Business]

2 February 2021

Nepal: Election Commission summons both factions of ruling Nepal Communist Party

(lm) Leaders of the rivaling factions of the Nepal Communist Party, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli and Pushpa Karma Dahal, have been summoned by the Election Commission (EC) to discuss matters related to the upcoming snap election. [The Himalayan Times]

The prime minister in December decided to dissolve the country’s lower house of parliament and announce snap elections for in two phases – a controversial move amidst a prolonged tussle for power between him and his rival intraparty rival Dahal [see AiR No. 51, December/2020, 4]. Since then, the party is effectively divided into two factions – one led by the prime minister and another by Dahal, with both factions staking claim on the NCP, which was born out of a post-election merger of the CPN-UML (Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist)) and the Maoist Centre in 2018 [see AiR (4/2/2018)].

The EC, however, earlier this month refused to give legitimacy to either faction, saying both sides had failed to follow the Political Parties Act 2017 as well as the party statue. Therefore, the electoral body continues to only recognizes the NCP which was formed in May 2018 with Prime Minister Oli and Dahal as its two chairmen. [AiR No. 4, January/2021, 4]

 

2 February 2021

Nepal awards hydropower project to Indian company

(lm) Chaired by Nepalese Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, a meeting of Investment Board Nepal (IBN) decided on January 29 decided to award the contract for construction of a hydropower project to India’s Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam (SJVN). Delegated under the build–own–operate–transfer (BOOT) project delivery method, ownership of the project will be transferred back to the Nepalese government after 20 years of commercial operation. [South Asia Monitor] [Investment Board Nepal]

 

26 January 2021

Nepal: NCP faction of Prime Minister Oli to reconstitute party’s committee

(lm) In his capacity as factional leader of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP), Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli has issued directives for immediate reconstitution of all party committees. Addressing a gathering of leading party workers on January 19, the prime minister also suggested that the party’s ideological line may be gradually revised. [The Himalayan Times]

Last November, Oli had initially made a push for replacing the ideological middle path both factions of the NCP had agreed to adopt during the post-election merger in 2018 [see AiR (4/2/2018)], proposing the guiding principle of the ‘People’s Multiparty Democracy’ as the new party’s ideological line [see AiR No. 45, November/2020, 2]. Proclaimed in 1993 as an extension of Marxism-Leninism, ‘People’s Multiparty Democracy’ refers to the political line of the now-defunct Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist–Leninist) (CPN-UML). This thought abandons the traditional idea of a revolutionary communist vanguard party in favor of a democratic multi-party system.

26 January 2021

Nepal: Dahal-Nepal faction holds mass protest in Kathmandu; expels Prime Minister Oli from NCP

(lm) Defying a ban on public gatherings, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in Kathmandu on January 22 to protest against Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s decision to dissolve the lower house of parliament and call for snap elections [see AiR No. 51, December/2020, 4]. Organized by the faction of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) led by senior leaders Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Madhav Kumar Nepal, the protests were the latest in a series of regular demonstrations against the prime minister [see AiR No. 1, January/2021, 1]. [Reuters]

While addressing a public gathering organized by the student wing of the now-defunct Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Center) (CPN-MC), Dahal insinuated that a violent movement was the need of the hour. Thus, it is worth remembering that Dahal led the CPN-MC’s decade long Maoist insurgency that ended in 2006, directing the military efforts of the party towards establishing areas of control, particularly in the mountainous regions and in western Nepal. [The Kathmandu Post]

Separately, factional leaders Dahal and Nepal also terminated the party membership of Prime Minister Oli. The decision was taken during a Standing Committee meeting held on January 24, after the prime minister failed to explain in writing the motives behind his decision to dissolve the lower house of parliament – a move that allegedly defied party rules, policies, and statue [see AiR No. 3, January/2021, 3]. [The Himalayan Times

26 January 2021

Nepal: Prime Minister Oli promises fair and impartial mid-term elections

(lm) Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli said promised that the upcoming-mid term elections would be organized in a fair, impartial and free manner, while addressing an event held on January 22 on the occasion of the 20th establishment day of the Armed Police Force (APF). [The Himalayan Times]

Throwing into doubt the political future of Nepal, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli last December recommended the dissolution of Parliament’s lower house. Nepal is now set to hold elections on April 30 and May 10, more than a year earlier than the expected vote in November 2022. [AiR No. 51, December/2020, 4]

 

26 January 2021

Nepal: Election Commission refuses to give legitimacy to either faction of ruling Communist Party

(lm) The Election Commission (EC) refused on January 24 to give legitimacy to either faction of the ruling Communist Party (NCP), saying decisions taking by both sides failed to follow the Political Parties Act 2017 as well as the party statue. Therefore, the NCP continues to remain intact – technically and legally – albeit having practically split. [The Kathmandu Post]

Nepal last December plunged into a political crisis after Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli decided to dissolve the country’s lower house of parliament and to call for snap elections for next year – a controversial move amidst a prolonged tussle for power between him and his rival Pushpa Kamal Dahal [see AiR No. 51, December/2020, 4]. Since then, the NCP is effectively divided into two factions – one led by the prime minister and another by Dahal, with both factions staking claim on the NCP, which was born out of a post-election merger of the CPN-UML (Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist)) and the Maoist Centre in 2018 [see AiR (4/2/2018)].

Earlier the electoral body amended its rules to recognize the split in the NCP, as previous legal hurdles did not allow it to recognize a split in a party once general elections had been announced [see AiR No. 2, January/2021, 2]. While the EC has not given any timeframe to announce its decision, both factions have since been approaching the EC time and again to prove their authenticity [see AiR No. 52, December/2020, 5].

26 January 2021

United States envoy meets with Prime Minister Oli & rival Dahal

(lm) The United States ambassador to Nepal on January 21 met with Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli to discuss the new US presidential administration’s priorities, including strengthening democracies and battling climate change. Significantly, the ambassador also met with Oli’s rival and factional leader of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP), Pushpa Kamal Dahal, a few days after, although Dahal does not hold an official position in the current caretaker government. [The Himalayan Times 1] [The Himalayan Times 2]

19 January 2021

China in the “U.S. Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific” 

(dql) Shortly before Joe Biden will be sworn in as US President in this week, the Trump administration declassified and published the “U.S. Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific”, approved by President Trump in 2018 and stamped secret and not for release to foreign nationals until 2043. 

The 10-page national security strategy paper identifies maintaining “U.S. strategic primacy over the Indo-Pacific region,” and promoting “a liberal economic order, while preventing China from establishing new, illiberal spheres of influence and cultivating areas of cooperation to promote regional peace and prosperity” one of three national security challenges, along with North Korea’s threat to the US and its allies as well as the advancement of US global economic leadership. 

Furthermore, the document assumes that the “[s]trategic competition between the United States and China will persists,” with China “circumvent[ing] international norms and rules to gain advantage,” and seeking to “dissolve U.S. alliances and partnerships,” in order to “exploit vacuums and opportunities created by these diminished bonds.”

As an desired outcome with regards to China, the “United States and its partners on every continent” shall become “resistant to Chinese activities aimed at undermining their sovereignty, including through covert or coercive influence.” [White House, USA]

For a concise assessment of what has been achieved under this strategic framework, see Grant Newsham in [Asia Times] who argues that “Trump and his staff are handing off to Joseph Biden an Indo-Pacific that is better off than it was in 2017. 

19 January 2021

Nepal: Constitutional Bench begins hearing on dissolution of lower house of parliament

(lm) The Supreme Court (SC) on January 18 began the hearings on the constitutionality of the dissolution of the lower house of parliament [see AiR No. 51, December/2020, 4]. Previously, the SC rejected petitioner’s claim to refer the case to an 11-member grand full bench and decided that the case would be heard by a five-member constitutional bench, instead. Separately, the SC also rejected on January 15 rumors that four justices had recently met with Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli. [The Himalayan Times 1] [The Himalayan Times 2]

Throwing into doubt the political future of Nepal, the prime minister on December 20 dissolved the lower house of parliament and called for early elections [see AiR No. 51, December/2020, 4]. Responding in writing to a show-cause notice earlier this month, the prime minister described his decision as a “purely political” move that would not warrant a judicial review [see AiR No. 1, January/2021, 1, also AiR No. 2, January/2021, 2].

Further elaborating his motives, the prime minister goes on citing “the doctrine of necessity” to argue that continuous infightings in the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) had paralyzed both government and Parliament. Further, Prime Minister Oli also argues that the resumption of the winter session of the National Assembly is proof that he did not have any mala fide intention in dissolving the House of Representatives [see AiR No. 52, December/2020, 5].

19 January 2021

Nepal: Rival faction threatens to expel Prime Minister Oli from ruling Nepal Communist Party

(lm) Factional leaders of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Madhav Kumar Nepal have called on Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli to explain in writing the motives behind his decision to dissolve the lower house of parliament – a move that allegedly defied party rules, policies, and statue. The two leaders gave the prime minister three days to respond and threatened to terminate his party membership in case the response will be found wanting. [The Himalayan Times]

 

19 January 2021

Nepal to establish Economic Zones along borders with India, China

(lm) Nepal is planning to establish four cross-border economic zones, two each along the borders with India and China – as part of efforts by Kathmandu to boost trade and investment with its two neighboring countries. [The Kathmandu Post]

Among the country’s trade partners, India accounts for the largest share of exports and imports. In the last fiscal year, more than 60 percent of Nepal’s total foreign trade was done with India. China, in turn, is Kathmandu’s second largest trading partner, accounting for little more than 15 percent of Nepal’s imports but only a small portion of its export trade.

Kathmandu last year started construction on a dry port in its far western province of Dodhara-Chandani, which provides the shortest route to the sea. The first business gateway to India from Nepal’s Far-Western Development Region, the inland terminal will provide access to India’s largest seaport, Jawaharlal Nehru Port in Mumbai, and facilitate Nepal’s foreign trade and lower costs.

 

12 January 2021

Nepal: Pro-monarchy protesters clash with police in Kathmandu

(lm) Nepal’s capital Kathmandu on January 11 witnessed clashes between riot police and hundreds of protesters, who were demanding the restoration of the monarchy and a Hindu state. Observing the birth anniversary of Prithivi Narayan Shah, the first monarch of Kingdom of Nepal, royalist groups clashed with security forces when they tried to access the country’s administrative complex in the capital. Police used batons to beat the protesters, who responded by throwing rocks and sticks. [Al Jazeera] [The Kathmandu Post] [The Himalayan Times]

Organized by the Hindu nationalist Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP), Monday’s protests were the latest in a series of similar pro-monarchy demonstrations that started on a small scale in June last year [see AiR No. 48, December/2020, 1].

12 January 2021

Nepal: Dahal-Nepal faction urges Election Commission to stop snap poll preparation

(lm) Factional leaders of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Madhav Kumar Nepal went to the Election Commission (EC) on January 11, urging the constitutional body to suspend its preparations for the upcoming snap elections, saying the case was sub judice at the Supreme Court [see AiR No. 51, December/2020, 4]. After the decision of Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli to dissolve the lower house of parliament and to call for early elections, the EC published a notice to update the existing voter’s list. [The Himalayan Times 1] [The Kathmandu Post]

Further, the EC amended its rules to recognize the split in the NCP, as previous legal hurdles did not allow the electoral body to recognize a split in a party once general elections had been announced. With the NCP on the verge of a split, the EC can now hear claims and counter claims of the rivaling factions about who should use the original party’s name, flag, and election symbol during the general election. While the electoral body has not given any timeframe to announce its decision, both factions have since been approaching the EC time and again to prove their authenticity [see AiR No. 52, December/2020, 5]. [The Himalayan Times 2]

 

12 January 2021

Nepal: Chief justice mandatorily chairing Constitutional Bench exposes shortcomings of Constitution

(lm) Legal experts in Nepal currently discussing some fundamental flaws in the Constitution, pondering whether the chief justice of the country’s Supreme Court can sit on the bench that is hearing a case in which he is one of the defendants. What brought the discussion about was a series of actions by Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli that preceded the dissolution of parliament’s lower house.

On December 15, the prime minister had introduced an ordinance on the Constitutional Council Act, enabling the Constitutional Council (CC) – a key agency that appoints officials at various constitutional bodies – to achieve quorum if as few as three of its six members, including the prime minister, attend a meeting [see AiR No. 51, December/2020, 4]. After facing heavy backlash, Prime Minister Oli finally agreed to withdraw the ordinance – only to went back on his words soon thereafter. Since then, three separate petitions have been filed at the Supreme Court challenging the constitutional validity of the recommendations made by the CC. [The Kathmandu Post 1]

This is the crux of the matter: As per the constitutional provisions, the chief justice is also a member of the CC, and, as consequently is named as defendant in one of the petitions. But what is more, in contrast to other members of the Constitutional Bench can recuse himself, the chief justice does not such right. [The Kathmandu Post 2]

12 January 2021

Nepal: Dissolution of Parliament’s lower house a “political issue”, says Prime Minister Oli

(lm) Addressing an extraordinary session of the upper house of Parliament, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli on January 10 defended his decision to dissolve the lower house, calling the move a “political issue”. The prime minister also resented the Supreme Court’s decision to entertain the petitions challenging the constitutionality of the dissolution [see AiR No. 51, December/2020, 4]. [The Himalayan Times 1]

Preceding Oli’s address to the upper house, protesters took to the streets their support for the prime minister on January 9, demanding five more years for Oli in the upcoming general election. Most of the supporters are members of the Rashtriya Yuva Sangh, a youth wing of the ruling NCP. [South Asia Monitor]

Moreover, the prime minister’s decision to dissolve the lower house of parliament has put the country’s judiciary to the test, with opinions divided over whether the move is constitutional. While may legal observers, including four former chief justices, have called the dissolution outright unconstitutional, Prime Minister Oli and his supporters have been trying to justify the move, saying the constitution would permit such a decision. [The Himalayan Times 2]

12 January 2021

Nepal’s foreign minister to visit India on January 14

(lm) Bilateral relations between India and Nepal continue to see an upwards trajectory, as Nepal’s Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali is set to visit New Delhi on January 14 to chair the sixth meeting of the India-Nepal Joint Commission, a foreign minister-level bilateral mechanism between the two countries established in 1987. [Hindustan Times] [The Hindu]

Gyawali will be the senior-most Nepalese official to visit New Delhi since bilateral ties had derailed in May last year, after New Delhi had announced the inauguration of a new Himalayan link road built through the disputed area of Kalapani that lies at a strategic three-way junction with Tibet and China [see e.g. AiR No. 20, May/2020, 3AiR No. 28, July/2020, 2]. Shortly thereafter, Kathmandu had issued a new political map unilaterally expanding its territorial claims over the Lipulekh Pass and other mountain territory claimed by both India and Nepal [see AiR No. 24, June/2020, 3].

Resuming dialogue last August, Nepalese Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli then laid the groundwork for a reformed India outreach, calling Indian Prime Minister Modi on the occasion of India’s 74th Independence Day [see AiR No. 33, August/2020, 3], and stopping the distribution of a new text book that included the country’s revised political map. Back-to-back visits to Nepal by the head of India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) [see AiR No. 44, November/2020, 1]., Indian Army Chief General Naravane [see AiR No. 42, October/2020, 3], and Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla [see AiR No. 48, December/2020, 1] then laid the groundwork for Gyawali’s trip to India.

Beyond solving the boundary dispute, the Nepalese government is also hoping for Gyawali’s trip to yield a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), which would include an agreement on the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines from New Delhi. While China has offered to supply its version of its CoronaVac vaccine, Nepal has given priority to Covishield, a vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India (SII), citing logistics, pricing, and New Delhi’s assurance to facilitate procurement. [The Kathmandu Post 1] [The Kathmandu Post 2] [South China Morning Post]

5 January 2021

Chinese delegation downplays visit to Nepal

(lm) The Chinese delegation dispatched in the wake of the dissolution of Nepal’s lower house of parliament [see AiR No. 52, December/2020, 5] wrapped up its four-day visit on December 30, after meetings with Nepal Communist Party (NCP) leaders, including Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, and his two intraparty rivals, Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Madhav Kumar Nepal.

While members of the delegation claimed their visit was focused on strengthening ties between the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and political parties in Nepal, observers say the group explored several options to retain the dominance of the communist parties in Nepal’s politics, including forging an alternative alliance led by the NCP for the upcoming general elections: The first was to convince Prime Minister Oli to reverse his decision to dissolve the lower house of parliament and call for early election [see AiR No. 51, December/2020, 4] in exchange for being allowed to lead the caretaker government. But the prime minister refused the proposal, saying there was no guarantee that the rivaling faction would not try to topple his government. Dahal and Nepal, in turn, also refused to give any commitments, demanding that the prime minister should reverse the order to dissolve parliament first. [Hindustan Times]

Moreover, the Chinese delegation also explored the possibility of mobilizing an alternative government led by the NCP – but minus Prime Minister Oli – in case the dissolution is reversed by the Supreme Court (SC) [see AiR No. 52, December/2020, 5]. To this end, the group held meetings with leaders from Nepal’s two major opposition parties, Nepali Congress (NC) and Janata Samajwadi Party-Nepal (JSP-N), testing the water for cross-party support of a Dahal-led NCP. The team also reached out to the next generation of NCP leaders from both camps to get them to nudge their seniors to keep the party united. [The Himalayan Times

5 January 2021

Nepal: 5000 residents protest China-sponsored industrial park project

(lm) More than 5,000 residents protested on December 29 against the construction of a China-sponsored industrial park, demanding adequate compensation for the acquired land and transparency regarding the Chinese investment project located in Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s home constituency. Built under Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BIR), the project will be fully funded by China and handed over to Nepal after 40 years. [The Himalayan Times] [Khabarhub]

5 January 2021

Nepal: Thousands march against the dissolution of the lower house of parliament

(lm) Defying a ban on public gatherings, thousands of opponents of Nepal’s Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli marched through the streets of Kathmandu on December 29, urging the prime minister to reverse his decision to dissolve the lower house of parliament and call for early election [see AiR No. 51, December/2020, 4].The protests had been organized by the faction of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) led by senior leaders Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Madhav Kumar Nepal. [The Straits Times]

Previously, Nepal’s two major opposition parties, Nepali Congress (NC) and Janata Samajwadi Party-Nepal (JSP-N), have also held separate protests. A plan to jointly protest the dissolution of parliament’s lower house was placed on hold after the NC rejected the proposal of the Dahal-led faction of the NCP. Observers say, the decision not to participate has shed light on the NC’s intraparty fault lines, pitching an anti-establishment faction against the party’s president, who may see a chance of leading the government. [The Kathmandu Post]

In the first session of parliament’s upper house [see AiR No. 52, December/2020, 5] held on January 1, lawmakers from opposition parties Nepali Congress (NC) and Janata Samajwadi Party-Nepal (JSP-N) cornered the prime minister, accusing Oli of “unconstitutional and undemocratic actions.” [The Himalayan Times]

The Supreme Court (SC), meanwhile, has issued a show cause notice to the Office of the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers seeking an explanation on the prime minister’s decision to remove two ministers from his cabinet and change the portfolio of another six, about a week after seven ministers had resigned to protest the dissolution of the lower house of parliament [see AiR No. 52, December/2020, 5]. The apex court, further, continues hearing dozens of petitions filed against Prime Minister Oli’s political move and his plans to press ahead with parliamentary elections on April 30 and May 10, less than two years before the scheduled date. [The Himalayan Times 2]