Nepal’s prime minister lost a confidence vote in Parliament on Monday, triggering a political crisis in a country gripped by a second COVID-19 wave.
KP Sharma Oli, who is battling for political survival following months of bickering with his rivals, managed to bag 93 votes – well short of the 136 required.
President Bidhya Devi Bhandari has called for political parties to form a new coalition government by Thursday, but it remains unclear whether Oli’s rivals will be able to cobble together a coalition.
As COVID-19 cases continue to rise and hospitals face shortages of oxygen and intensive care beds, experts warn the political instability will further dent Nepal’s pandemic response.
The country reported 225 more deaths from COVID-19 on Tuesday, its highest daily figure so far, taking the overall toll to 4,124.
There are currently close to 100,000 active cases in Nepal, leaving its fragile healthcare system overwhelmed and in danger of collapse.
“The political instability at the top will have implications for the COVID-19 response. As it is, the government hasn’t been as active as it was during the first wave,” said Arun Sedhain, a professor of medicine at Chitwan Medical College in central Nepal.
Over the past year, Prime Minister Oli touted dubious home remedies for COVID-19, urging people to gargle with guava leaves and use a solution of turmeric powder and hot water to cure the disease.
His troubles began late last year when he dissolved the Parliament in a pre-emptive move while his rivals were preparing to bring a no-confidence motion in the lower house.
Nepal's Supreme Court reinstated the Parliament on Feb. 23, deepening the rifts among the country’s political parties.
Another ruling by the top court split the ruling Nepal Communist Party, forcing Oli to go for Monday’s confidence vote.
With the Thursday deadline for a new government looming, political commentator Rajaram Gautam told Anadolu Agency that the possibility of a coalition being forged this quickly was very slim.
“None of the parties will be able to put together a coalition for the government, even though the people are fed up with Oli’s administration,” he said.
He explained that Oli may continue to govern due to his position as the head of the largest party in the Parliament.
In an address to lawmakers on Monday, the premier defended his government’s COVID-19 response, claiming that there were enough intensive care beds available in Nepal’s hospitals.
Gautam, who is political columnist for Nepal’s Kantipur newspaper, said the prime minister has lost credibility as a ruler.
“People haven’t felt the delivery during the [COVID-19] emergency,” he said.
“Covid-19 patients have been turned away from hospitals due to a lack of oxygen. The state has completely failed. It did not deliver last year, nor is it doing so now.”