KATHMANDU, Nepal — Nepal’s Parliament was dissolved on Saturday for the second time in five months, deepening a political crisis in the Himalayan nation as it struggles with a devastating COVID-19 outbreak.
President Bidya Devi Bhandari announced the move shortly after midnight, saying that new elections would be held in November. Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli and various opposition groups have been trying unsuccessfully for weeks to form a government.
Opposition politicians expressed surprise, apparently daunted by the prospect of planning for an election while the coronavirus is wreaking havoc. Nepal, an impoverished nation of 30 million that borders India, has been recording about 7,000 new infections per day, and because testing is limited, experts believe that is a significant undercount.
“We may not be able to organize big rallies because of COVID right now,” said Prakash Sharan Mahat, an opposition leader. “But these sorts of unconstitutional and undemocratic acts will be challenged at the court of law again, and we will politically campaign across the country.”
Nepal’s health infrastructure is so overwhelmed that people have been dying in hospital corridors and courtyards, and some hospitals have stopped admitting new patients. In total, about 500,000 coronavirus infections and 6,000 deaths have been reported.
Opposition groups accused the president, whose role is largely ceremonial, of favoring Oli by dissolving Parliament at a time when they were close to mustering enough votes to replace him, a claim that could not be verified.
Nepal’s transition to democracy since 2008, when its monarchy was dissolved, has been fragile and turbulent. In the latest episode, political parties have been at a loggerhead since Oli, who commanded a majority of nearly two-thirds in Parliament, dissolved the lower house in December after disputes within his coalition.
That prompted widespread protests. In February, the Supreme Court ruled that Oli had overstepped his powers and ordered Parliament reinstated. That put the prime minister in the uncomfortable position of facing a vote of confidence.
As expected, he lost that vote. But Bhandari, the president, tasked him with continuing to lead the government as the head of the largest party. On Friday, Oli recommended that she dissolve Parliament to pave the way for new elections.
Opposition lawmakers said they had mustered enough votes by Friday to make one of their number, Sher Bahadur Deuba, the new prime minister, but supporters of Oli disputed that claim.