Ruling alliance still struggling to get reliable candidate for the new president

Several names are being floated for the Presidency. Top guns of ruling parties, however, seem undecided. National and international interests have played a role, observers say.

NL Today

  • Read Time 3 min.

Kathmandu: A month after the Election Commission completed the final count of votes under the proportional representation category, thereby making clear which parties won how many seats in federal parliament, the election of President, Vice-President and Speaker of the House is yet to take place.

Though Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ on Monday urged the Election Commission to initiate the process for the election of President and Vice-president,  who would actually become the next head of state in Nepal remains anyone’s guess.

According to Article 62 of the constitution, the President is elected by an electoral college consisting of the members of the Federal Parliament and members of the Provincial Assemblies. A person who secures a majority of the then existing total votes of the Electoral College referred to in clause shall be elected as the President.

A person who is eligible to become a member of the Federal Parliament, who has completed the age of at least forty-five years and who is not disqualified by any law can become the president of Nepal, as per the constitution.

As of this writing, the political parties in the ruling alliance–comprising Maoist Center, CPN-UML, Rastriya Swatantra Party, Rastriya Prajatantra Party, Janata Samajbadi Party,  Janamat Party,  Nagarik Unmukti Party and three independent leaders–have not agreed on a common candidate to lead the country as the head of state.

Some names, however, are being discussed in the public sphere with interest.

The major names that are in the discussion from CPN-UML are Subash Nembang, Ishwar Pokharel and Astalaxmi Shakya. Names of some former bureaucrats and judges were also making rounds when Sher Bahadur Deuba was the Prime Minister. That possibility appears to have ended for the time being. 

Interestingly, the possibility of Madhav Kumar Nepal is also being discussed despite his open rivalry with CPN-UML chairperson KP Sharma Oli. 

So who will call the shots in the election for the president?

The process to choose the next president has become complicated as there are overriding interests and concerns of major national as well as international actors, according to commentators on geopolitical issues. “The president is also ceremonial head of Nepal Army. That is why the army wants a leader of their confidence as the next president,” a high-ranking CPN-UML leader told Nepal Live Today. “Though the form and intensity of the pressure has not been revealed by the political parties, it can be said that neighboring countries and some friendly countries also want a candidate of their preference as the president.” Similarly, political parties, particularly the decisive player of the ruling alliance CPN-UML, is also seeking a candidate who can serve the party’s interest as the president. 

Amid these interests, the ruling alliance is facing difficulties to identify the candidate who can manage all the interests, he claimed. 

Subash Nembang appears to be the first choice of UML chair KP Sharma Oli. Nembang, however, does not have a trust relationship with major forces. Nembang is often criticized among pro-Hindu groups for, what some leaders believe, playing the key role in declaring Nepal as a secular state. As the ruling alliance comprises pro Hindu forces like the Rastriya Prajatantra Party and UML itself is trying to woo Hindu voters, KP Oli may face pressure not to propose Nembang as the next president.

Ishwar Pokharel, senior vice president of UML who also served as the Minister of Defense in the KP Oli led government,  is seen as another possible candidate. But, apparently, Pokharel does not have a good rapport with the Nepal Army. His relationship with the army is said to have suffered during his last tenure as the Defense Minister over alleged corruption in procurement of essential medical goods and equipment during the first and second wave of Covid-19 pandemic. 

Asta Laxmi Shakya holds respect among Nepali people. But she might not be in the good list of KP Sharma Oli. 

Why Madhav Nepal? Several circumstances have favored Madhav Nepal as the next Prime Minister. First, he can be a trusted candidate for national as well as international power centers. Second, Upendra Yadav is trying to merge his party with Madhav Nepal’s CPN (US). Upendra Yadav may favor Madhav Nepal as managing the latter as the president will help him become the sole leader of the proposed new political formation. 

Last minute agreements and twists have become a defining feature of Nepali politics in recent times. In this context, political parties may come up with new decisions and candidates. Meanwhile, who will become the next head of the state remains a matter of guess.