Nepal’s Supreme Court has ordered the reinstatement of Parliament, which was dissolved in December last year – a ruling that is likely to thrust the Himalayan nation into a political crisis.
Monday’s court order came in response to several cases filed with the court charging that Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli’s decision to dissolve the legislature was unconstitutional.
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The court said a meeting of the reinstated Parliament must be called within 13 days.
Nepal has been in political turmoil since PM Oli made the sudden decision and called for elections 18 months ahead of schedule amid the coronavirus pandemic that has hit the tourism-dependent economy hard.
Oli has defended the decision, saying his rivals in the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) had not cooperated with the government in the appointment of officials to panels such as the national human rights and anti-corruption commissions, and in other policy decisions.
The verdict means 69-year-old Oli, who was elected in 2018 following his party’s landslide win in the 2017 election, faces a no-confidence vote.
The court’s decision was welcomed by the opposition as well as members of the dissident faction of Oli’s own party.
Narayan Kaji Shrestha, spokesman for the faction, said the court has “protected the spirit of democracy”.
“The prime minister should resign on moral grounds, taking responsibility for his unconstitutional attempt. Otherwise, we will take the necessary decision from the Parliament,” Shrestha said.
About 100 slogan-shouting activists, their faces smeared in vermillion, lit candles on the street in the heart of Kathmandu to celebrate the verdict and urged Oli to quit.
There has been a power struggle between Oli and the leader of the former Maoists rebels, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who is also co-chair of Oli’s party.
The two had previously agreed that they would split the five-year term between them, but Oli has refused to allow the former rebel leader to take over, leading to a split in the party.
Dahal’s supporters were among those who filed cases with the Supreme Court.
The dissident group has been organising street demonstrations for weeks against the government since it dissolved Parliament.
On February 4, a nationwide strike was called over the crisis where at least 77 people were arrested, including a former prime minister.
Other opposition parties have repeatedly accused Oli’s government of corruption, and his administration has faced criticism over its handling of the coronavirus.
Nepal has reported nearly 274,000 COVID-19 cases and more than 2,000 deaths.