Commentary | Do we need High Level Political Mechanism at all?

Political parties often form political mechanisms though such mechanisms are not recognized by law and its relevance and effectiveness are always questioned.

Kishor Dahal

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Kathmandu: Nepali Congress General Secretary Bishwa Prakash Sharma recently made a satirical comment on CPN-UML chair KP Sharma Oli over the latter’s involvement in the High Level Political Mechanism (HLPM). 

“A proposal to form a high-level political mechanism was presented while he was the Prime Minister. He denied the proposal saying such a mechanism is not recognized by the constitution,” Sharma said while speaking in parliament on January 19 while proposing Ishwari Neupane for the position of the House Speaker. “Forming a similar mechanism is an attempt to take the PM’s position under control,” Sharma commented.

Sharma was responding to comments made by KP Sharma Oli. Earlier, Oli had fiercely criticized Nepali Congress for its move to support the Maoist chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal-led government. 

Not only Sharma, other NC leaders also look critical to the political mechanism. Badri Pandey, deputy general secretary of NC, also criticized the mechanism and the role of KP Sharma Oli at the parliament on January 21. He said that KP Oli has been sending a message that he is above the executive by claiming to be the coordinator of High Level Political Mechanism that is not recognized by the constitution. Pandey went on saying that no one has a higher portfolio than the Prime Minister according to our constitution. 

General Secretary of ruling Maoist Center Dev Gurung, however, dismisses the charge made by the opposition leader regarding high-level political mechanism. We should take criticism from the opposition normally. But their comments about the mechanism are far from reality, he said. “In a multiparty system where there is an alliance government, it is a natural process to form a mechanism. The mechanism is in place to have dialogues among alliance parties.”

CPN-UML leaders also defend such political mechanism.  In the meeting of ruling parties held at the Prime Minister’s official residence in Baluwatar on December 29, 2022,   UML General Secretary Shankar Pokhrel tried to prove the relevance of the mechanism by saying  it was created to make the government more effective.

Coordinator of the political mechanism and the prime minister often find themselves locking horns over pressing issues. 

However, this is not the first time such a mechanism has been formed by the political parties.   In the pretext of making the government more functional, building the environment of trust among the ruling parties in the alliance, or by projecting it as a pool between the Prime Minister and ruling parties, such a mechanism has often been defended by the political parties in power.  But in reality, this mechanism has not been functioning enough.

There are no constitutional or legal provisions for forming political mechanisms to assist and advise the government, nor such political structure is accountable to the people and the parliament.  Such a political body has not been found to be effectively working to clear the misunderstanding among the parties in the ruling alliance either. No past PM was able to serve a full term on the backing and support of political mechanism. Instead, the coordinator of the political mechanism and the prime minister find themselves locking horns over pressing issues, resulting in toppling of the government. 

Besides , formation of political mechanism has often become the subject of criticism rather than appreciation. Political mechanism is often criticized for making constitutional and legal institutions weak and ineffective.  Yet, the political parties often create such mechanism when they are in power. Political mechanism coordinator appears to project himself as being as equal (or more) as the executive.  In a function held to unveil the common minimum program of the government on January 9, political mechanism coordinator K P Sharma Oli was sitting right next to the Prime Minister.

Dev Gurung, however, does not see it that way. According to him, high-level political mechanism has more to do with pragmatic issues rather than legal and constitutional questions. “Look at the all-party meeting. This is not something recognized by the constitution and law but we often have such meetings,” he said. “This happens in multi-party democracy. This is meant for holding consultations among the parties in the ruling alliance, for which we need a platform for the leaders of the ruling parties to come together and discuss. Hence the relevance of such political structure.”

Ironically, as claimed by Congress General Secretary Bishwa Praskash Sharma, UML Chair Oli was once very critical of the idea of political mechanism. In March, 2020, when Covid-19 pandemic was taking a toll on people’s lives and livelihood, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, then the co-chair of Nepal Communist Party, had proposed  a political mechanism under the coordinatorship of PM Oli himself. But Oli flatly rejected the proposal by saying that his government was working effectively enough and such a mechanism was not needed at all.

Same Oli today leads the high-level political mechanism that seems to be more proactive than the government ought to be.Constitutional expert Bipin Adhikari is of the view that forming a political mechanism in a coalition government is understandable and such a body can take political decisions.  But the cabinet itself is a big mechanism in itself and those in the cabinet from the parties in government can represent those parties, says Adhikari. “Generally, the cabinet decision of the government is taken according to the cabinet system. Only then can it be accountable to parliament,” Adhikari told Nepal Live Today. “As such, the political mechanism can perform functions of political nature and inform the cabinet about its perspective on political issues.  But the problem starts when the mechanism acts as all powerful.”