For Sher Bahadur Deuba, the Prime Minister's Office of Nepal is not unfamiliar. Deuba, 75, has previously served four terms as the Prime Minister of Nepal from 1995-1997, 2001-2002, 2004-2005, and 2017-2018. So when he took oath as the prime minister of the Himalayan nation on Tuesday, it was the fifth time that he did so.
Prior to the swearing-in, the Nepal Congress chief refused to take oath seeking a correction in his appointment letter that was silent on the constitutional clause under which he was appointed. The swearing-in ceremony which was scheduled to be held at 6 pm local time (17:45 IST) finally took place hours later after the anomaly was rectified.
The fresh opportunity came to him after a recent Supreme Court order, which cited Article 76(5) of Nepal’s Constitution and directed President Bidya Devi Bhandari to appoint the Nepali Congress chief as the country's new prime minister.
Deuba, who shifts to the seat of power from the opposition side, formed a small cabinet comprising Nepali Congress and Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) representatives, among others, after he took the oath of office and secrecy. In the first phase, some five- to seven-member cabinet will be under the leadership of Deuba.
What is the Supreme Court of Nepal order?
The apex court order was based on the 30 writ petitions, including one from Deuba himself and 146 parliament members, demanding the appointment of Deuba as the prime minister.
The Supreme Court of Nepal on Monday overturned Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli's 21 May decision to dissolve the House of Representatives and ordered the appointment of Deuba. A five-member Constitutional Bench led by Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher Rana said Oli's claim to the post of prime minister was unconstitutional.
Reinstating the House yet again — the court had restored the House earlier on 23 February after Oli dissolved it on 20 December — the bench ordered to make arrangements for holding the House meeting by 5 pm on 18 July. In its order, the constitutional bench said President Bhandari's decision to reject Deuba's claim to form a new government was unconstitutional.
Why was Nepal Lower House dissolved twice in a matter of months?
After the Maoist insurgency that lasted from 1996 to 2006 and following the abolition of the monarchy, Nepal finally got a new Constitution in 2015. National elections under the new constitution were held for the first time in 2017. The elections were swept by an alliance of KP Oli's Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) and the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist Centre (CPN-Maoist Centre) led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal, better known as 'Prachanda'. Their alliance was named as the Nepal Communist Party (NCP).
According to reports, initially, the two alliance partners had agreed on a plan to equally share the prime minister's seat before they decided to settle for a "one man-one post" arrangement — by which Oli would continue as the prime minister while Prachanda led the alliance. But Dahal and his supporters accused Oli of not honouring his commitments and acting unilaterally, which saw them make attempts to remove the prime minister.
With his back against the wall and under pressure from Prachanda, Oli announced that he was dissolving the parliament in December last year. However, the Nepalese Supreme Court overruled the move in this February and ordered reinstatement and a vote of confidence. Oli lost the confidence vote held in May whereupon he again recommended to Nepal President Bhandari that parliament be dissolved; she duly ordered it.
In the meantime, the Nepal Communist Party alliance split between CPN-UML and CPN-Maoist Centre with the Supreme Court ruling in March 2021 that the NCP stood "dismissed" as the name NCP was already allotted to another party.
Why Sher Bahadur Deuba faces a tough road ahead
Deuba, who has been a Member of Parliament from Dadeldhura–1 since 1991, is required to seek a vote of confidence from the House within 30 days of his appointment as the prime minister as per the constitutional provisions. This is where the trouble begins.
Although the apex court's order has paved the way for Deuba to become a new prime minister, Deuba will have to secure majority votes in Parliament to survive as the prime minister for the remaining term of the 275-member House.
It is not certain whether the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) will join the Deuba government. With the Madhav Kumar Nepal faction of the CPN-UML deciding to sever ties with the Opposition alliance, Deuba may face a tough time winning the vote of confidence. Last month, 23 CPN-UML lawmakers, led by dissident leader Madhav Kumar, had backed Deuba as prime minister and even provided signatures to his petition against the House dissolution.
However, there is a chance that the Upendra Yadav-led faction of the Janata Samajwadi Party will join the government later.
How are Sher Bahadur Deuba's ties with India?
Deuba shares a warm relationship with India and has on numerous occasions spoken publicly about it. In 2015, when Nepal was in a tumultuous period owing to the process of framing a new constitution, Deuba cited how India urged for maximum consensus among political forces in the new constitution.
According to The Kathmandu Post, Deuba had said that India did not directly advise on anything particular but urged to take into confidence the disgruntled forces so that the Constitution will not be opposed in future. India too may favour Deuba in the hot seat. India needs Deuba to counter China, while Deuba needs India's support for the party and development.
During the border troubles with India, Deuba often pressed for dialogues between the two nations instead of a hardened stand.
“Kalapani is our territory and Lipulek is a point where the territories of Nepal, India and China converge. I wonder what has stopped Prime Minister Oli from holding talks with India,” Deuba had told The Himalayan Times.
The China angle is important because Nepal shares a long border with Tibet and is home to around 20,000 Tibetan exiles.
Who is Deuba's rival KP Oli?
Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli, 69, is a two-time prime minister of Nepal and the first to fill the seat after the country adopted its new constitution in 2015. He gained popularity in Nepal for standing up to India during the economic blockade of 2015 that New Delhi was accused to have imposed over its displeasure with the new Nepalese constitution.
Oli's two tenures as the prime minister have seen ties being strained with India and the recent instance of Nepal government maps showing three areas as part of the country — Kalapani, Lipulek and Limpiadhura — which were, however, included by India in an earlier map is a case in point. Last month, he had also questioned whether yoga originated in India.
“Much before the existence of India as a nation, yoga was practised in Nepal. When yoga was discovered, India had not been constituted. There was no country like India then; there were just several fringe states. So, yoga originated in Nepal or around Uttarakhand. Yoga did not originate in India,” Oli said. He had earlier also said that Lord Ram was born in Nepal.
Amid the internal tussle within his alliance and political crisis in Nepal, he had last year accused India of plotting to destabilise his government.