Asia in Review Archive 2021

Nepal

Date of AiR edition

News summary

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]