Interestingly, the figurehead presidential post, ceremonial functionally, is undoubtedly a constitutional post, has suddenly become not only the centre of public discussion but has also become a real bone of contention among the major political parties as stakeholders. It is simply because our politicians who framed the constitution, put the post outside of its purview, not to be bound by it to become custodian of the constitution. Perhaps, they were swayed away by the hangover from the 1990 constitution, which held the King as the protector of the constitution as well.
It is also because our leaders in the Constituent Assembly anticipated that the post was meant only for them, as they would have exclusive right to elect a president and get elected themselves. Moreover, they made the post of Prime Minister, the chief of the executive lest lasting than that of the president, as its normal tenure of five years is negotiated to fluctuate as per agreement reached between the coalition partners.
It is a truism that the adopted electoral system will normally produce hung parliament, which necessitates coalition governments. Curiously, the alternatives, which the constitution provides for forming a coalition government, are unnatural and unconventional. Normally, the third step (Article76.3) should have been the second stage, as in case of no party gets majority, the single largest party should have been given an option to form the government. If it fails to prove its majority, then only two or more parties could have been allowed to form the government. Such provisions have deprived the government of its stability and the president’s assumed prominence and resulted in the ensuing tug of war between the major parties making election significant.
Generally, by politics we mean the activities involved in obtaining and using state power in public life, and being able to influence decisions that affect a country. In other words, it stands for the activities associated with the governance. We have multiparty democracy for which we struggled for decades. We have become secular federal democratic republic through the constitution adopted by the elected Constituent Assembly in September 2015. We have second general elections for the federal House of Representatives and also for seven provincial assemblies on November 20, 2022 and all governments are in place.
In a democratic system, political leaders are the main actors and their parties are their vehicles. Political parties are supposed to run in accordance with their principles, policies and programmes. However, in recent years, parties are run like a private company to suit the interests of their leaders. Leaders’ main motto does not seem to serve the people but to achieve their goal of getting power by any means, fair or foul. They base their efforts on the theory that politics is the art of the impossible. In reality, it is only a truism for those who gain from the manoeuvring and for the rest, it is a bitter experience.
Sadly, in Nepal, politics has turned into a crony politics, as it only revolves around the interests of the leaders and their kith and kin and is sometimes extended to suit the party they lead. And to achieve their goals they make commitments and compromises in dark rooms orally to be easily denied or refused to act accordingly at the critical time. It does not require any proof, as it is has been commonly observed. The happenings during the last decade especially since the adoption of the constitution in September 2015 and onwards, there have been events of fooling one leader by another inviting unwarranted political instability resulting in paralysing the government which not only obstructs the day-to-day business of the government but also important issues like appointments in judiciary and other sectors.
It was believed in the political circles that the then Prime Minister Sushil Koirala had agreed to make room for KP Sharma Oli after the constitution got promulgated. However, it did not happen and Oli had to contest election to become PM. He really defeated Koirala in the election with the increased numerical strength from Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda’s party. It was further believed that to get Prachanda’s support, Oli had agreed to hand over the reign of government to him after two-and-a-half years to run the government in turn. However again, the understanding was breached. As a result, Prachanda forced Oli to resign by bringing a vote of no confidence. Since the motion was to be passed, as the Nepali Congress had decided to support it, Oli visualising his defeat, resigned before facing the House.
Again, it was claimed that there was agreement, not written, between the Nepali Congress leader of the House Sher Bahadur Deuba and Prachanda to reign in turn. Prachanda became Prime Minister and he handed over the reign to Deuba smoothly keeping his word. The general election 2022 again gave a hung parliament. The NC came out as the largest party in the House, Prachanda, whose party was the third largest party, claimed Prime Ministership as per agreement between him and Deuba. Since Deuba weaselled out of his promise, as claimed by Prachanda, he jumped out of the coalition and joined hands with Oli and became Prime Minster.
Oli claims that there was agreement between him and Prachanda to support the presidential candidate proposed by Oli but Prachanda shifted the ground to form eight-party alliance involving the NC to elect a consensus candidate in the post of head of state. It has created a rift in the ruling coalition leading to another phase of instability. Since the ceremonial post of President has acquired the position, which no constitutional provision can bind, parties are fighting tooth and nail to elect a president of their choice. Hence again, the process of fooling one leader by another has begun. Truly speaking, no one leader is fooling another except the people who have voted for them in the last election.
(Mishra is a former election commissioner.)