What happens if Prime Minister Deuba fails to secure a vote of confidence?
With the Supreme Court issuing a mandamus order to appoint Sher Bahadur Deuba as the next Prime Minister under Article 76(5) of the Constitution and to seek a vote of confidence under Article 76(6) of the Constitution, the constitutional crisis that has erupted is put on hold for the time being. However, the oath-taking fiasco at Sital Niwas on Tuesday and K P Sharma Oli’s pompous fanfare departure from Baluwatar to his private residence at Balkot on Wednesday, along with his vengeance-filled speech, do not bode well for the country.
The Oli supporters are ready to fight. This is reflected in the ugly drama unfolding inside Gandaki Province by pro-Oli MPs, as well as the burning of an effigy of the Chief Justice and the chanting of foul-mouthed slogans at rallies organized by Oli supporters.
PM Deuba must secure a vote of confidence in parliament within 30 days of his appointment. The Court has also ordered that parliament be called within seven days of the date of the order, or by Sunday, July 18, at 5:00 p.m.
Legal stumbling blocks
There is a technical problem with obtaining the vote of confidence. The Prime Minister appointed under Article 76(5) must seek a vote of confidence under Article 76(6), which states:
“The Prime Minister appointed pursuant to clause 76(5) shall be required to secure the vote of confidence pursuant to clause 76(4).”
However, the Article 76(4) reads as follows:
“The Prime Minister appointed pursuant to clause 76(2) or 76(3) shall be required to secure the vote of confidence from the House of Representatives within thirty days after the date of such appointment.”
Clause 76(5) is not mentioned in Article 76. (4). Clauses 76(2) and 76(3) are intended to take a vote of confidence in a coalition government and a government led by the largest party, respectively. Aside from the numerical ordering of the clauses, it is unclear why the Constitution’s drafters mentioned Article 76(6) after mentioning Article 76. (5). It is mentioned in Article 76(6) to go to Article 76(4), when it could have been written straight away, within Article 76(5), to seek a vote of confidence as per Article 76. (4). Article 76 (6) appears to be a redundant clause. Anyone looking for a legal loophole has the potential to cause a problem here. In defense, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba can argue that he does not need to secure a vote of confidence under Article 76(4) because Article 76(5) is not mentioned within Article 76. (4). I hope this does not happen.
Will Deuba make it?
The proof will be in the pudding for PM Deuba, who will seek a vote of confidence in the restored parliament. Sceptics are already speculating that we will be back to square one after a month. Deuba will fail if the CPN-UML Madhav Nepal faction does not vote for him, and we will return to early elections. This is what former Prime Minister Oli proposed, and we spent nearly two months of legal wrangling for nothing.
If PM Deuba wins the vote of confidence, he will be able to stay in power for the remaining 18 months of parliament’s five-year term. For two years, the Constitution prohibits filing a no-confidence motion against the new government. The question is moot: What happens if PM Deuba fails to win a vote of confidence? This is probably a redundant question. Here are some of the reasons:
First and foremost, this question is unimaginable. Under Article 76, the Court has already ruled that every member of parliament has the right to vote freely and independently (5). There will be no use of party whips here. This single condition allows JSP MPs, particularly those from the Nepal faction and the Thakur-Mahato faction, to vote. There is, of course, one caveat: possible horse trading, outright vote buying, and, who knows, even kidnapping and holding MPs hostage. There is already word that a former minister from the Oli Camp, who has 7-8 MPs on his side, has approached PM Deuba for a ministerial position in lieu of a vote of confidence.
With Indian media now openly admitting that it was wrong to support the Oli government, the Mahatha Thakur-Rajendra Mahato faction of JSPN may also change their minds.
Second, the Nepal faction feels morally obligated to support Deuba. According to media reports, Madhav Nepal has already assured Deuba of his vote. Going against Deuba is akin to indirectly supporting the Oli government’s plan to dissolve parliament. Didn’t they sign the agreement to appoint Deuba as Prime Minister and keep parliament from dissolving? What effect will the Nepal faction’s vote have on CPN-UML unification? This is a separate topic for discussion and analysis.
Third, it is reasonable to give PM Deuba the benefit of the doubt. Already, a slew of criticisms have been leveled at him, ranging from his incomprehensible speaking style to his previous lacklustre performances to a satire on astrologists forecasting him to be PM for the seventh time. This is his fifth submission.
During the voting, even MPs from the CPN-UML Oli faction may abstain rather than vote against him. With the Indian media now openly admitting that their support for the Oli government was wrong, who knows if the Thakur-Mahato faction will change their minds. MPs are bound to salivate if carrots of power are dangled in front of them. I just mentioned a specific case above. And Prime Minister Deuba is a seasoned politician on this subject.
Fourth, the pandemic situation and the impending third wave will favor Deuba’s retention of power. Surprisingly, the Court verdict makes no mention of the pandemic situation, the restoration of the parliament, or the holding of elections. Only the Oli faction is adamant about holding elections, even in the midst of a pandemic. Previously, I proposed that the availability or lack thereof of vaccines, as well as the spread of coronavirus, would determine the course of Nepali politics. I still believe in this prediction, and the situation clearly favors PM Deuba.
Finally, there is the external factor to consider. With the Chinese Ambassador indicating that China is willing to “collaborate with all political parties in Nepal” and the American Ambassador being the first to extend his congratulations, the external wind is clearly blowing in PM Deuba’s favor. If it weren’t for the efforts of the First Lady and her diplomat in-laws in Japan, the Japanese government would be donating anti-Covid vaccines to Nepal. Hopefully, Prime Minister Modi will call Deuba soon to express his congratulations, possibly with a vaccination program. According to media reports, he is simply awaiting the outcome of the vote of confidence. If this is true, PM Deuba has an even stronger case for a vote of confidence.
There is no point in expecting too much from Prime Minister Deuba. This is a caretaker government that is expected to last no more than 18 months. If he just takes care of the three viruses that are infecting the country—the (p)olitical virus (which I prefer to rename the communist virus), coronavirus, and corruption virus—I believe Deuba will be a daringly successful leader.
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