How Baluwatar brought disgrace upon Sheetal Niwas and the high office played complicit rolesThe brazen display of promptitude by the President to act as per the Oli government’s demand has eroded the image of the hallowed institution, analysts say.
In what could be a textbook example of how to bring the Office of the President to disgrace, the KP Sharma Oli administration has highly belittled the high office, stoking even concerns over the legitimacy of the institution which is just 12 years old.
In a span of eight months, the Oli administration issued the same ordinance twice–only to withdraw it both times after getting it approved from the President.
On April 20, the Oli Cabinet recommended two ordinances. One was related to the Constitutional Council Act (Functions, Duties and Procedures). The ordinance aimed to amend some clauses related to commencement of the Constitutional Council meeting and decision taking. No sooner had the administration recommended the ordinance than the President approved it. After massive criticism, the government recommended the repealment of the ordinance on April 25. The President duly abided.
Eight months later, Oli on Tuesday once again issued the same ordinance. It was swiftly promulgated by the President. This time around, Oli attracted backlash at larger scale, with some members of his own Nepal Communist Party (NCP) calling his move outright unconstitutional and experts on constitutional matters equating it to committing a fraud on the constitution.
At the party’s Standing Committee meeting on Wednesday, Oli, who is also the party chair, agreed to withdraw the ordinance.
“Today’s Standing Committee meeting has unanimously decided to withdraw the ordinance,” Narayan Kaji Shrestha, the party spokesperson, told reporters after the meeting.
Party insiders say the decision was taken after Oli reached an understanding with his current bete noire Pushpa Kamal Dahal, the other party chair.
Now Oli’s Cabinet will have to make a recommendation to the President for the repealment of the ordinance.
Given how President Bidya Devi Bhandari has worked in the past at the behest of the Oli administration, it is expected that she will once again issue a notice of repealment.
Lal Babu Yadav, a political adviser to President Bhandari, said she will repeal the ordinance if the Cabinet makes a recommendation to that effect. “As a constitutional President, she can do nothing but endorse what the Cabinet recommends,” Yadav told the Post.
Observers and analysts say while Oli has spared no effort to discredit the Office of the President, Bhandari too has been complicit in the game, thereby both emerging as actors to systematically attack the system. In principle, the President is the guardian of the people, the country and the constitution, but the way she has turned into a rubber stamp shows she has completely failed in her constitutional duties, according to them.
“The prime minister and the President have turned the state machinery into a puerile game,” Lok Raj Baral, a retired professor of political science at Tribhuvan University and former ambassador of Nepal to India, told the Post. “Bhandari’s actions show that she has failed to rise above partisan interests and is still functioning like a leader of the Oli faction from the then CPN-UML.”
This is not the first time President Bhandari’s role has come into question. In the past also she has attracted public opprobrium for her excessive involvement in the internal politics of the ruling party.
Bhandari’s role as the President had been questioned in April this year also when she promptly approved the Oli government’s ordinance recommendation.
By repeating a similar act on the same ordinance that was earlier repealed, Bhandari now has brought the vaunted institution that she heads into question.
Experts on constitutional affairs say Bhandari as the constitutional president with no executive powers per se does not mean that she does not have to take into account if the government's recommendations abide by the spirit of the constitution.
“The Office of the President gives legitimacy to the works of the executive. Therefore, whether the executive has followed the due process or not must be examined,” said Chandra Kant Gyawali, who specialises on constitutional law. “Constitutionally, she may not have the authority to reject the government's recommendations, but she can at least raise her concerns or ask the government to be sensitive towards constitutional provisions.”
The promptitude Sheetal Niwas puts into display everytime there is a recommendation from Baluwatar too has demeaned the hallowed institution that the Nepali people have earned through struggles, analysts say.
“There is no compulsion for the President to immediately endorse what the Cabinet recommends,” said Gyawali. “She has every right to take time to study.”
Analysts say the constitution may not have bestowed executive powers on the Office of the President, but there is no provision that bars the office from conducting the state of affairs with discretion. Both Oli and Bhandari now have to answer the motive behind issuing the ordinance that contradicts the constitution and repeal them within 24 hours, according to them.
“Bhandari’s successive moves of endorsing what the Oli government decides have raised a moral question over her role as the Head of State. Her actions have brought dishonor to the valued institution,” said Raju Prasad Chapagain, chair of the Constitutional Lawyers’ Forum. “It’s not just about Bhandari, it is about the institution. Her moves have made people lose their faith in the institution.”
It’s not that the President has endorsed all the ordinances immediately.
For instance, it took her two weeks to promulgate the ordinance to revise some Nepal laws to increase the penalty on rape and attempt to rape.
Last year, Bhandari decided to resend a bill to amend the Passport Act to the federal parliament for reconsideration. It was authenticated after it was revised.
Yadav, the President’s adviser, however, said that authentications are done as demanded by the prime minister and the Cabinet.
“The prime minister said he needed the ordinance immediately so she authenticated it swiftly,” said Yadav.
That’s how, experts say, the Office of the President is becoming a rubber stamp because it is working as per the requirement of the executive.
“Every constitutional president should use their conscience,” said Gyawali. “The President has a litany of advisers and experts to support her in decision making. She can even consult independent experts.”
Not just has she worked swiftly to endorse ordinances forwarded by the Oli government, Bhandari also has played the role of a mediator in resolving disputes within the ruling party.
Last month she held a meeting with ruling party vice-chairman Bamdev Gautam and asked him “to play a constructive role” to save the party unity. She also met party chair Dahal asking him to settle the dispute by holding a meeting with Oli.
Baral, the professor, said one is expected to be above the party and a trusted personality of the entire nation after being appointed President.
“Her active participation in party politics shows she has completely failed to internalise the dignity of her position,” said Baral. “She has turned into a puppet of the Oli government who is using her the way it wants.”