Nepal President dissolves Parliament amid pandemic crisis, calls new elections

Authorities have been reporting about 200 deaths a day in Nepal. PHOTO: AFP

KATHMANDU (AFP, REUTERS) - Nepal's Parliament was dissolved for the second time in five months on Saturday (May 22) and new elections called for November as the Himalayan country battled political turmoil alongside the coronavirus pandemic.

President Bidhya Devi Bhandari made the order after declaring that neither Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli nor Sher Bahadur Deuba, leader of the opposition Nepali Congress, had a majority to form a new government.

Political rivalries between the communist Prime Minister and his former Maoist allies hit a new peak as the country battles a severe coronavirus wave with acute shortages of oxygen and vaccines.

Authorities have been reporting about 200 deaths a day, but experts say there are a lot more and the United Nations has launched an emergency Covid-19 appeal saying that Nepal is at "breaking point".

On Friday, the country said it had recorded 497,052 infections and 6,024 coronavirus-related deaths since the pandemic began, according to government data. Nepal is battling a deadly second wave of the pandemic and is reporting more than 8,000 new infections on average each day.

Ms Bhandari dissolved Parliament in the early hours of Saturday after a new breakdown in talks.

"The president... has dissolved the current House of Representatives and fixed the first phase of general elections on November 12 and the second phase on November 19," her office said in a statement.

Mr Oli was reappointed the prime minister only last week as no leader could muster a majority after the veteran communist lost a vote of confidence.

The 69-year-old had a month to win a new vote of confidence in Parliament but the President called on other parties to try to form a government as Mr Oli struggled to win support.

Ms Bhandari, who hails from the ruling party and is considered close to Mr Oli, has been criticised for agreeing so quickly to Mr Oli's recommendation for a new election.

Mr Chandrakanta Gyawali, a constitutional expert, said the President has "derailed from the spirit of the constitution" by giving in to Mr Oli so easily.

"This decision could be challenged in the court again. The prime minister has repeatedly attacked the constitution," Mr Gyawali said.

In December, Mr Oli dismissed the legislature and called elections, accusing members of his Nepal Communist Party of blocking his moves.

After nearly two months of protests, the Supreme Court reinstated Parliament, saying Mr Oli's move was unconstitutional.

The opposition says Oli, who had lost a vote of confidence this month, has no legal authority to recommend the dissolution of the parliament.

Five opposition leaders said in a joint statement the prime minister had pushed the country into a serious problem at a time when people were suffering and dying due to the coronavirus pandemic.

"When the country should have united to battle the pandemic, the dissolution of the parliament has only added to the problems and sufferings of the people," the statement said.

Prakash Sharan Mahat, a senior leader of the opposition Nepali Congress party said they will launch a political and legal fight against the move.

Mr Oli became prime minister in 2018 and secured a two-thirds majority of Parliament through a merger between his party, the CPN-UML, and a former rebel party, CPN (Maoist Centre).

Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal has turned against Mr Oli again however, setting off the hostilities.

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