Thousands of opponents of Nepal’s Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli marched through the streets of the capital Kathmandu urging him to reverse his decision to dissolve Parliament and call for early elections.
Defying coronavirus restrictions on gathering, protesters called Oli’s decision unconstitutional while rallying outside his office on Tuesday.
On December 20, the office of President Bidhya Devi Bhandari announced the dissolution of Parliament at the request of Oli’s cabinet, while also anticipating general elections now scheduled for April 30 and May 10, more than a year ahead of schedule.
The protesters chanted slogans against Oli while they marched peacefully in the centre of Kathmandu as thousands of riot police kept a close watch.
“We are protesting the unconstitutional move by the prime minister and we will continue to protest until Parliament is reinstated,” said Laxman Lamsal, a regional assembly member.
Oli, 68, became prime minister after his Nepal Communist Party (NCP) won elections three years ago. Oli’s party and the party of former Maoist rebels had merged to form a unified Communist party.
Tensions, however, have grown between Oli and the leader of the former rebels, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who is also co-chair of the party.
The two had previously agreed that they would split the five-year prime minister’s term between them, but Oli has refused to allow Dahal to take over.
The opposition has also accused Oli’s government of corruption and his administration has faced criticism over its handling of the coronavirus outbreak.
Oli also has been accused of moving closer to China and drifting away from Nepal’s traditional partner, India, since taking power.
Oli pushed for a fresh mandate after the ruling NCP accused him of sidelining his party in government decisions and appointments.
He says internal squabbling and a lack of cooperation from his party have paralysed decision-making, forcing him to seek a new popular mandate.
His move plunges the Himalayan country, which has seen revolving-door governance since street protests restored multi-party democracy in 1990, into political turmoil as it battles the coronavirus pandemic
Police officials overseeing security said at least 10,000 people were on the streets to participate in the march, one of the most intense protests the country has witnessed since Oli dissolved Parliament.
“We have tactfully managed the rally of about 10,000 protesters,” Basanta Bahadur Kunwar, a police spokesman, told Reuters news agency.
The country’s top court will in January continue hearing dozens of petitions filed against Oli’s political move and his plans to press ahead with elections.
Politicians and social media users said the ruling party should have tried out other political combinations to run the country instead of calling an untimely election when its tourism-dependent economy has been battered by the pandemic.
“The prime minister has no authority to dissolve the parliament under the constitution. Therefore, he should reverse his decision immediately,” 19-year-old student Rajesh Thapa told the news agency waving a flag with a red hammer and sickle printed on it, a symbol of the ruling Communist party.