Asia in Review Archive 2021
Date of AiR edition
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, 3, AiR 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]