KATHMANDU: At the behest of Prime Minister K. P. Sharma Oli’s cabinet, Nepal’s president dissolved parliament on Sunday and announced that general elections would be held in April and May, more than a year ahead of time.
The step plunges the Himalayan nation into political chaos as it fights the coronavirus pandemic, which has seen revolving-door rule since street demonstrations restored multi-party democracy in 1990.
Seven ministers, including the head of tourism, stood down, citing the decision by Oli to go against the “popular mandate” granted to them in the general election of 2017. In different parts of the capital, Kathmandu, demonstrators burned effigies of him.
The office of President Bidhya Devi Bhandari said in a statement that the voting dates of April 30 and May 10 were recommended by Oli’s cabinet after an emergency meeting.
After his Nepal Communist Party (NCP) accused him of sidelining his party in government policies and nominations, Oli, 68, pressed for a fresh mandate. In the last ballot, he led a coalition with vanquished Maoist rebels to a landslide victory.
“In the parliamentary party, the central committee and the party secretariat, the prime minister has lost the majority,” said Bishnu Rijal, a member of the NCP central committee.
“He chose to dissolve parliament instead of seeking a compromise within the party.” Oli’s decision came after a vote of no confidence against him was registered by some lawmakers from his party in the 275-member lower house of parliament, NCP lawmaker Pampha Bhusal said.
Politics in Nepal, sandwiched between China and India, is also affected by the priorities of its giant neighbours. In a nation that New Delhi finds its own backyard, India has been fighting back against Beijing’s rising clout.
Rajan Bhattarai, Oli’s aide, said that the prime minister had behaved in reaction to his party’s backlash, which had also asked him to consider leaving as its chief.
Instead of calling an untimely election as the pandemic has ravaged its tourism-dependent economy, politicians and social media users said the ruling party should have sought other political combinations to rule the government.
According to constitutional specialist Bipin Adhikari, the 2015 Nepal Charter would not grant the prime minister the right to dissolve parliament without exhausting alternatives.
“At first sight, it is unconstitutional,” he added, noting that the ruling could be appealed before the Supreme Court, which could take a few weeks to rule about its validity.
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Oli had vowed to ensure political stability, tackle corruption and poverty after his 2017 victory, but has made little progress, particularly after the pandemic.
In a nation of 30 million inhabitants, coronavirus infections have reached 253,772, with 1,788 deaths.