Nepal Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli’s recommendation to dissolve Parliament, which has been duly approved by President Bidya Devi Bhandari, has pushed the young democracy into an unprecedented constitutional crisis and political turmoil. Mr. Oli, whose Nepal Communist Party with a near two-thirds majority in Parliament, took the drastic step as he came under increasing pressure from his own party to withdraw an ordinance his government issued last week. Both the opposition and other leaders within the ruling party alleged that the ordinance to amend the Constitutional Council Act would undermine the checks and balances in the system and empower the Prime Minister in making crucial appointments. Mr. Oli had reportedly agreed to withdraw the ordinance in a party meeting. But on Sunday, his Cabinet made the unexpected move to recommend a dissolution of Parliament. Elections will now be held in April-May 2021, a year ahead of schedule. Constitutional experts have challenged the legality of Mr. Oli’s decision. Nepal’s 2015 Constitution allows the dissolution of the House before its five-year term ends only if there is a hung assembly and no party manages to form a government. Since the President has cleared his recommendation, the issue will now be decided by the Supreme Court.
When Mr. Oli’s Communist Party of Nepal (UML) and its alliance partners came to power in 2017 with a huge majority, many hoped that it would be a new beginning. Nepal was in a painful transition from a monarchy to republican democracy. In less than a year, the CPN-UML and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre), led by former Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, merged to form the country’s largest communist force, the NCP. It was a historic opportunity for the NCP, especially for Mr. Oli, to steer the fledgling democracy out of its many crises. But the merger did not dissolve the fundamental differences between the NCP’s two factions. Mr. Oli’s authoritarian impulses and refusal to share power with the Maoist faction made matters worse. In recent months, there were calls from within the NCP for Mr. Oli to step down. When the party asked him to withdraw the amendment, it was clear that he had lost internal support. But instead of following the party line, Mr. Oli decided to sink his government. Given the seriousness of the crisis, a split cannot be ruled out. And if that happens, Nepal would be pushed back to political instability, at a time of multiple challenges, from a slowing economy to the coronavirus crisis. Mr. Oli could have gone down in history as a statesman. Instead, he has cut a sorry figure as Prime Minister, and his obsession with power risks unravelling the party he co-founded.