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Nepal’s Chief Justice Suspended, Adding Political Chaos

The suspension is likely to deepen the confrontation between the Nepalese government and opposition parties. Political chaos threatens $500 million in US aid that Nepal, whose tourism-based economy has been ravaged by the pandemic, desperately needs to build power lines across the country and improve roads. The aid has been stalled since 2017, Nepalese authorities are loath to ratify the money – a one-time grant from the Millennium Challenge Corporation, an independent US agency – because it is unpopular among voters who view it as a threat to sovereignty from Nepal.

The House speaker declined to summon lawmakers to ratify the aid deal, while the Maoist party leader met virtually with senior Chinese officials. And members of Mr. Oli’s party have hampered parliamentary action for months by shouting slogans and demonstrating inside the hemicycle.

Opposition prefers getting infrastructure help from China, whose leader Xi Jinping visited in 2019 and pledged to improve connectivity on roads, railways, aviation and communications as part of its mammoth Belt and Road Initiative. So far, however, no project in Nepal has started.

Time may be running out on the $500 million US grant. Last week, Donald Lu, assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, told Nepal he had until the end of the month to ratify aid, according to local media.

The impeachment motion against the Chief Justice has been launched, local media reported, after ruling coalition partners agreed to tacitly back aid ratification by absenting themselves from the House vote. Remaining parliamentarians broadly support the granting of the US grant, so the absence of Maoist party members would likely result in easy ratification.

Some opposition leaders “do not want to endorse it at the cost of losing public support”, said Rajan Bhattarai, the foreign policy chief of Mr Oli’s Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist).

“They agreed to remove the chief justice, a cheap tactical move at first, then to push for ratification of US aid,” Mr Bhattarai said. “The impeachment motion against the Chief Justice was brought in a planned manner.”