Himalayan blunders: Nepal’s political crisis amid pandemic puts democratic gains under strain:
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Nepal’s opposition parties have approached the country’s Supreme Court against President Bidya Devi Bhandari’s decision to dissolve the country’s House of Representatives last week. This is the second time in five months that Bhandari has dissolved the House, having last done so in December on PM KP Oli’s recommendation. But that decision was overturned by Nepal’s SC in February.
Then earlier this month Oli lost a vote of confidence but was reappointed as premier even while he was losing support within his own party. With the unified Nepal Communist Party scrapped in March and the Prachanda-led CPN (Maoist Centre) withdrawing support to the government subsequently, Oli’s CPN (UML) was anyway in a minority. In such a scenario, Bhandari should have given more time and consideration to Nepali Congress’s Sher Bahadur Deuba’s claim of majority support. Instead, she chose to ignore the constitutional provisions that allowed government formation from within the sitting Parliament. In fact, an unfortunate impression has now been created that Oli will do whatever it takes to hold onto office with the help of a compliant Bhandari.
This is certainly a setback for Nepal whose transition to a federal democracy has been long and hard. To fortify its democratic gains, Nepal’s institutions must respect democratic ground rules and accept orderly transitions of governments. On India’s part, New Delhi must learn its lessons of 2015 and maintain neutrality in Nepal’s domestic politics. Plus, Nepal today is battling a surge in Covid cases. Reports are coming in of hospitals being overwhelmed by patients, while in scenes reminiscent of several Indian cities, the country is facing its own medical oxygen crunch – even as its Covax vaccines are delayed. A political vacuum in this scenario could be debilitating, so all eyes are on the country’s apex court again.