This match has been fixedThe president is deeply enmeshed in the ruling party’s mess, and that is not good for the republic.
Damage control actions cause greater damage if not done right. After the Supreme Court judgement on the unconstitutionality of the dissolution of the House of Representatives, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli was expected to take moral responsibility for the debacle. He was expected to express remorse for his ill-thought-out attempt at derailing the political process and commit to adhering to constitutionalism and buttressing political culture.
On her part, President Bidya Devi Bhandari was expected to feign principled distance from the prime minister's political manoeuvres if not express remorse for her keenness to jump on the dissolution bandwagon. Both of them have done exactly the opposite. On Tuesday, during an all-party meeting at Sheetal Nivas, the prime minister and the president were more or less on the same line concerning a way out of the contemporary political imbroglio. It is not clear whether the meeting had been called at the behest of the prime minister, but it looked like the Bhandari-Oli duo had invited the leaders to intimidate them rather than to seek their opinion on an amicable way out of the mess.
In the presence of the president, Oli said the House was not delivering again, and that its dissolution and fresh elections were a political necessity. The president complemented Oli's stance by singing paeans to elections as a democratic process although she was quick enough to add a disclaimer that it was up to the leaders to decide if they really wanted to go for early polls. The president seemed keen to enlighten the leaders about the supposedly sincere intentions of the prime minister towards establishing stability in the country.
Together, Bhandari and Oli ended up reinforcing the idea that they had indeed been in connivance all along. At the first instance, it feels ridiculous to think that the ceremonial head of the state would go out of her way to defend the unconstitutional act of the executive. But precedence has an important place in politics. The president has set several questionable precedents in the past few months, be it in her enthusiasm in rubberstamping controversial ordinances or the House dissolution, or her shadow presence in the goings-on in the ruling party.
Months before dissolving the House, Prime Minister Oli claimed a seasoned political player like himself would never think of sabotaging the match. There's no fun if there's no match, the prime minister said to a cheering crowd of his supporters. However, in dissolving the House, he ended up sabotaging the match altogether when it was apparent that he was on the losing side. Now, with the president seemingly eager to go along, the prime minister is back again, to play a match that has already been fixed.
President Bhandari is no trouble-shooter for the CPN-UML even if she may have a soft corner for her former party. She is no second fiddle to the prime minister even if he may be her former comrade. President Bhandari represents an institution that is expected to act as the custodian of the constitution. If President Bhandari wants to salvage the image of the institution she represents and elevate it from the slugfest of intra-party politics where she has allowed it to be taken to, she must make honest efforts towards keeping Sheetal Nivas at a principled distance from Baluwatar.