Nepal's embattled Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli lost a crucial trust vote in the House of Representatives on Monday, pushing the Himalayan nation into further political turmoil amidst a record surge in COVID-19 cases.
Oli, 69, lost the vote of confidence motion, days after the Nepal Communist Party Maoist Centre led by Pushpakamal Dahal 'Prachanda' withdrew its support, reducing the government to a minority.
Oli, who decided to seek the trust of the 275-member House on his government, managed to garner only 93 votes, which fell short of 43 votes to reach the 136-mark and win the vote of confidence during a special session of the lower house.
A total of 124 members voted against the confidence motion while 15 members stayed neutral, Speaker Agni Sapkota announced. The session was attended by 232 lawmakers.
"As the votes cast in favour of the motion fell short to achieve a majority of the existing strength of the House of Representatives, I hereby declare that the prime minister's motion to seek a vote of confidence has been rejected," Sapkota announced before adjourning the House.
With this, Prime Minister Oli is automatically relieved from his post as per Article 100 (3) of the Constitution.
Hours after Oli lost the trust vote and became a caretaker prime minister, President Bidya Devi Bhandari called on political parties to form a majority government within next three days.
The Office of the President said the President has decided to call on parties to form a majority government by Thursday as per Article 76 (2) of the Constitution. According to the provision two or more parties can form a majority government.
During the voting, some 28 lawmakers belonging to Oli's rival faction led by Madhav Nepal-Jhala Nath Khanal abstained during the voting.
The main Opposition Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre), which control 61 and 49 votes, respectively, voted against Oli's trust motion.
The Janata Samajbadi Party, which has 32 votes, however, was divided. The Mahantha Thakur-led faction stayed neutral while the Upendra Yadav-led group voted against Oli.
After losing the vote of confidence, the Prime Minister is automatically removed from his post and now the new coalition government will be formed as per the constitutional process, said senior Nepali Congress leader Prakash Man Singh.
Senior leader of CPN-Maoist Ganesh Shah said that Oli should immediately resign from the post and pave way for the formation of an alternative government.
The CPN-Maoist will join hands with the Nepali Congress and other parties who voted against Oli to form a coalition government at the earliest, he said.
Meanwhile, in a joint statement, Nepali Congress president Sher Bahadur Deuba, CPN-Maoist Centre chairman 'Prachanda' and Chairman of Janata Samajwadi Party Upendra Yadav urged President Bhandari to start the process of forming an alternative government after Oli's defeat.
As prime minister Oli's vote of confidence move was defeated by majority votes in Parliament, Oli has been removed from the post, so we call upon President Bhandari to initiate the process of appointment of a new prime minister as per article 76 sub-clause 2 of the Constitution, they said.
There is a provision in the Article 76 sub-clause 2 of the Constitution to form a coalition government with the help of two or more political parties representing in the House.
Constitutional expert Dr Bipin Adhikari said that the status of Oli now has turned into a caretaker prime minister as he lost the confidence of Parliament.
"He'd better resign from his position in such a case. Else, he can remain in the office until a new government is formed," Adhikari was quoted as saying by MyRepublica newspaper.
With Oli failing the trust vote, the President needs to invoke Article 76 (2) to form a new government. It says in cases where no party has a clear majority in the House, the President shall appoint as the prime minister a member of the House who can command majority with the support of two or more parties in the House of Representatives.
That could provide the Nepali Congress an opportunity to form a government with the backing of the Maoist Centre. But the two parties fall short of around 26 seats to form a new government, The Kathmandu Post reported.
If the House fails to form a government as per Article 76 (2) or a prime minister appointed under this provision fails to win the vote of confidence within 30 days from the appointment, the President shall invoke Article 76 (3), it said.
In that case, Oli is likely to stake claim to the government once again, the report said.
Oli currently is the leader of a party that has the highest number of members in the House.
If Oli is appointed under the Constitution, he also needs to win the vote of confidence within 30 days from the date of the appointment.
The prime minister appointed in this manner also needs to secure a vote of confidence within 30 days.
Failure to do so would lead to House dissolution, the Kathmandu Post explained.
Taking part in the discussion on Oli's trust motion, Prachanda said the prime minister does not have any moral ground to seek a vote of confidence in Parliament that he dissolved earlier.
Nepal plunged into a political crisis on December 20 last year after President Bhandari dissolved the House and announced fresh elections on April 30 and May 10 at the recommendation of Prime Minister Oli, amidst a tussle for power within the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP).
Oli's move to dissolve the House sparked protests from a large section of the NCP led by his rival 'Prachanda'.
In February, the apex court reinstated the dissolved House, in a setback to Oli who was preparing for snap polls.
Known for his pro-China stance, Oli had earlier served as the country's prime minister from October 11, 2015 to August 3, 2016 during which Kathmandu's ties with New Delhi had strained.
Oli lost the confidence vote on a day when Nepal recorded the highest single day COVID-19 death tally of 139 in the past 24 hours. According to the latest data released by the Ministry of Health and Population, Nepal also recorded as many as 9,271 new cases of COVID-19 in the past 24 hours.
Both new infections and deaths have risen sharply after Nepal logged Covid-19 cases in four digits on April 18.