Foreign powers weigh in as new faces join President raceExperts say Nepal should continue to elect President from among members of traditionally disadvantaged groups.
Anil Giri & Binod Ghimire
With the Election Commission submitting the election results to President Bidya Devi Bhandari on Thursday, parties have stepped up discussions on a new government and candidate for new President.
The post of President is among key positions the ruling coalition will include in its power-sharing deal, which the member parties are yet to agree upon. Other positions to be shared among the parties include the Vice-President, Speaker and Deputy speaker and the Vice-chairperson of the National Assembly.
The President replaced the king as the head of the state after Nepal became a republic in 2008. Dr Ram Baran Yadav, a Nepali Congress leader, became the first President of the country. Yadav, a member of the marginalised Madheshi community, served as the head of state for more than seven years—from July 2008 to October 2015.
He was replaced by Bidya Devi Bhandari, a woman leader from the CPN-UML. She will be leaving Sheetal Niwas when members of the federal parliament and provincial assemblies elect her replacement in a few weeks.
Constitutional experts say the republican Nepal set a good example by electing representatives from disadvantaged groups as its two presidents.
“As the country has already gotten a Madheshi and a woman as President, it would be better to elect a Janajati to the top post this time,” Bipin Adhikari, a former dean and a professor at the Kathmandu University School of Law, told the Post. “In an ethnically diverse country like Nepal, someone from the minority or marginalised community would best serve as a symbol of national unity.”
Article 61 of the constitution says the role of the President is to promote national unity, abide by the statute and also protect it. The very spirit of the constitution is to maintain diversity in the country’s topmost constitutional positions. As per Article 70, the election of the President and Vice-President should be done to ensure representation of different sexes or communities.
While parties are considering picking a new president from among political faces, sources claimed a few leaders have recommended former Chief Justice Kalyan Shrestha for the top job.
One such leader suggesting Shrestha for President is the Maoist Centre chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal and he has already held three meetings with Shrestha, according to a leader privy to the matter.
When contacted by the Post, Dahal’s aide Ramesh Malla said he was not aware of any such meeting but had heard rumours of a meeting between the two.
Malla, meanwhile, confirmed that some members of the judicial sector have recommended Shrestha’s name for President and his name is making rounds in some circles.
Not only Dahal, according to some leaders, Vice-President of Nepali Congress Purna Bahadur Khadka also held a meeting with Shrestha.
But a leader familiar with the goings-on says Shrestha’s name was first recommended by some foreign power and then by the legal fraternity. Also former chief justice Khil Raj Regmi on Tuesday held a meeting with Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba for around an hour and a half and there are speculations that Regmi could also be a candidate for new President.
An aide to Regmi told the Post that Regmi visited Baluwatar (prime minister’s official residence) at the invitation of Prime Minister Deuba and they discussed contemporary politics including a new government. The aide also claimed that Regmi, as a former head of government, visits Baluwatar regularly and Tuesday’s meeting was a continuation of the same.
But several other names—from both political and non-political backgrounds—for the new President have also been making rounds in political circles.
From former Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai to senior Nepali Congress leader Ram Chandra Poudel to Man Bahadur Bishwakarma, a senior Dalit leader of Nepali Congress, are also said to be in the race for President.
“My understanding is that the new power-sharing arrangement will be agreed upon among the ruling coalition,” senior Nepali Congress leader Bimalendra Nidhi, said, adding, “It won’t go beyond the alliance.”
Former chief justice Shrestha, according to some Congress leaders, is the choice of some foreign forces and is still under consideration at the top political level.
“But another powerful foreign power may disagree with Shrestha’s name because of his over-activism on several issues in the past,” the leaders said, adding. “A clash of interests of foreign powers could delay the presidential election.” Shrestha had notably campaigned against the then anti-graft chief Lok Man Singh Karki, KP Oli’s dissolutions of parliament, then chief justice Cholendra Shumsher Rana, and had given strong views in favour of the then chief justice Sushila Karki, who was barred from working after the then Congress-Maoist coalition brought an impeachment motion.
Parties and stakeholders are also wary of the way first president Ram Baran Yadav and incumbent president Bhandrai exercised power during their respective terms, a Congress leader said. “That’s why both domestic and foreign forces are lobbying for certain personalities as presidential candidates.”
Experts, meanwhile, say the country should continue with the tradition of appointing someone from marginalised or underprivileged groups as the head of state as that sends out a good message to the country and the world.
Raju Chapagain, a constitutional lawyer, said while keeping the principle of inclusion in mind, a nationally-accepted person should be appointed the head of the state. “The position should not be made merely a give-and-take issue,” he told the Post. “The country can give a message of national unity if the next President also comes from a minority community.”
Going by the ongoing political discussions, it seems a male Khas-Arya is going to be the next prime minister and this necessitates that someone from a different community, preferably a minority, be appointed president, say experts presenting as examples the immediate-past Indian president Ram Nath Kovind, who was a Dalit, and sitting president Droupadi Murmu, a woman from a tribal community.