Nepal’s PM seeks public support for early election amid protests

Pro-government activists gather near the portrait of Nepal’s Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli, also known as K.P. Oli, during a mass gathering in his support, after the dissolution of parliament, in Kathmandu, Nepal February 5, 2021. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar

KATHMANDU (Reuters) – Nepal’s Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli insisted on Friday he had the legal right to dissolve parliament and said he was justified in calling an early election in the face of widespread opposition from within his own ruling Communist party.

Oli was addressing thousands of supporters in Kathmandu, a day after leaders of a rival party faction called a national strike to oppose what they said was his “unconstitutional” move to seek a fresh poll amid a pandemic-induced economic crisis.

“The prime minister has the prerogative to dissolve the parliament,” Oli told a crowd gathered on a main road in the capital.

The 68-year-old prime minister, who is facing almost daily protests by political opponents and rights groups, said he had been compelled to take a tough decision because many colleagues were refusing to cooperate with him.

Nepal was plunged into crisis on Dec. 20 when Oli, who has two years of his term left to run, declared he could no longer work with rivals in his Nepal Communist Party (NCP), dissolved parliament and called for a fresh election.

The Supreme court is now hearing more than a dozen petitions challenging the legality of that action, with a verdict expected this month.

If Oli wins the legal battle, the Himalayan nation of 30 million people, wedged between India and China, will go to the polls, in two phases, on April 30 and May 10.

Oli’s critics – including many in his own party formed in 2018 in a merger of the United Marxist-Leninist party and the main Maoist party – say Nepal’s 2015 constitution, intended to preserve political stability, does not give the prime minister the prerogative to dissolve parliament.