The wrong way: Political parties in Nepal are trying to elect someone who works at their behest as the president

The ongoing contention of the political parties to elect their loyalists indicates that they want to exercise more powers through the president's office.

Ashim Neupane

  • Read Time 4 min.

Kathmandu: Nepal’s constitution has set a clear provision related to the powers and duties of the president.  Article 66 of the constitution clearly says that the President, while exercising the powers or duties, shall perform functions on recommendation and with the consent of the Council of Ministers. Such recommendation and consent shall be submitted through the Prime Minister, says the constitution. In other words, our constitution has envisaged the role of the president to be ceremonial. 

In practice, however, presidents in Nepal have tended to exercise powers other than those permitted by the constitution.  At times, the head of state has been partly encouraged, even provoked, to exercise such powers by none other than the political parties themselves. 

The first president Dr Ram Baran Yadav, to some extent, tried to maintain neutrality. But his tenure was not free from controversy. 

In May 2009, he defied the decision of the then government led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal of sacking the then Chief of Army Staff (CoAS) General Rookmangud Katawal.

Whether the president’s move at the time was right or wrong is still a matter of debate. Supporters of the president’s move say that the decision should be viewed as a ‘doctrine of necessity’ while those opposing the move argue that it was the beginning point of power exercise by the president. 

Yadav’s successor, Bidya Devi Bhandari has not been able to remain free from controversies for, what other political parties blame, on acting at the behest of CPN-UML leaders, particularly UML chair KP Sharma Oli.

President Bhandari’s move of immediately approving the decision of the KP Oli government to dissolve the parliament, authenticating ordinances, and disapproving the citizenship bill are among the most controversial issues in which president Bhandari was dragged. 

As Nepal is set to elect the new president on March 9, top leaders of major political parties look bent on appointing someone loyal to them at the topmost post of the state. 

The grand old ‘democratic party’ Nepali Congress has long been reiterating that the UML’s candidate as the next president will increase the chance of misuse of powers by the party and its chair KP Sharma Oli. Congress insists on this claim by citing the instances of dissolution of the parliament by the president three times on the recommendation of Oli when he was the PM. 

Despite being a key actor in the current coalition government, CPN (Maoist-Center) and Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ also seem reluctant to accept the UML’s candidate as the new president. Maoist chair Dahal has not publicly said anything against the UML candidate but he has stressed on the need for  ‘national consensus’. 

“Our recent history shows that national consensus is required to keep the democratic process on track. The first constitution assembly could not promulgate the constitution due to a lack of consensus. This is why, our party is highlighting the need of national consensus to the top post of the state,” Haribol Gajurel, chief political advisor to the Prime Minister told Nepal Live Today.

On the other hand, CPN-UML has been saying that the Maoist and ruling parties had agreed to provide the presidential portfolio along with the House Speaker to UML during the power-sharing deal before the government formation.  Evidently, UML is not happy with the way the Maoist chair is floating the card of ‘national consensus’.

The interest of Rastriya Swatantra Party, Rastriya Prajatantra Party, Janamat Party, Nagarik Unmukti Party, Loktantrik Samajbadi Party and other independent candidates will also be reflected in the process of electing the new president.

So why are the political parties looking to have their own preferred candidates for the post of president? Why are the top politicians flexing their muscles to elect the next president from the coterie of their confidantes?

This is not because, say the observers, the politicians want to improve the governance system or set a new precedent by appointing someone who has contributed to the society or electing a person who can play the role of custodian of the constitution as the next president.

Instead, at the core of the ongoing contention is to have someone in power so that they can exercise more powers through the president’s office, according to analysts and observers.

While UML wants to hold all powerful positions including the president, the House Speaker, and PM after two years as supposedly agreed with the alliance parties, Maoists appear to make the position as a tool to bargain for the position of the Prime Minister for the full term. 

Nepali Congress is also trying to break the current alliance by promising a full five-year term to Dahal as Prime Minister if the latter supports Congress in the presidential election. 

Apart from the interests of national political forces, the visits of officials from foreign power centers on the eve of the presidential election indicate their interest in the presidential elections, according to analysts. 

The structure and composition of provincial assemblies and federal parliament indicate instability from the province to the center, Chandra Dev Bhatta, a geopolitical expert, had told Nepal Live Today. It is therefore natural that there is an increased internal and external concern about the election of the president who will remain in power for a full five-year term. According to him, such an interest by the power centers has increased also because the president was dragged into controversies in political decisions in recent times.

Political parties are yet to declare the candidates for the post of president. Thus who will become the president, as of this writing, is anyone’s guess. But it is certain that the ongoing collusion among the parties for the presidency will result in the erosion of the reputation of the Office of President. 

The ongoing struggle of the political parties to elect their loyalists indicates that they are trying to elect someone who works at their behest as the president. This is something less likely to help the cause of  democratic process.