Nepal PM’s ‘constitutional coup’ challenged in court

(Reuters) – Opponents of Nepal’s prime minister turned to the Supreme Court on Monday to challenge his dissolution of parliament and the calling of an election, denouncing it as a “constitutional coup”.

Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli’s dissolution of parliament on Sunday raises the prospect of months of political turmoil in the Himalayan country as it battles the novel coronavirus.

Seven government ministers stepped down after Oli’s dissolution saying it was violation of the “popular mandate” given to them in a 2017 general election. Protesters burned effigies of him in the streets.

Supreme Court Spokesman Bhadrakali Pokharel said three petitions against the dissolution were “in the process of being registered”.

“Under the constitution, the prime minister has no prerogative to dissolve parliament,” lawyer Dinesh Tripathi, who is one of the petitioners, told Reuters.

“It’s a constitutional coup. I’m seeking a stay order from the court.”

The president on Sunday set April 30 and May 10 as dates for the general election – more than a year ahead of schedule – on the advice of Oli’s cabinet.

The prime minister has recently lost support within his own Nepal Communist Party (NCP), with some members accusing him of sidelining the party in government decisions and shunning members when making key appointments.

They have called on him to step down.

His supporters say that in a democracy, a new election is the best way out of a crisis like this.

The strife comes as Nepal, one of the world’s poorest countries, battles the coronavirus.

Nepal has had 253,772 infections and 1,788 deaths and the pandemic has battered its tourism-and-remittance-dependent economy.

Tripathi said that under the constitution, the prime minister should allow the formation of an alternate government to ensure stability in a country that has seen 26 prime ministers in 30 years.

If the court registers the petitions it could take about two weeks for a decision, legal experts say.

Neighbours China and India, which jostle for influence in Nepal, have not publicly commented on the upheaval.