Nepal all set to elect new President todayRam Chandra Paudel of Nepali Congress or Subas Chandra Nembang of CPN-UML to be elected for a five-year term.
On Thursday, Nepal will elect its third President since the country became a republic in 2008. The election will be held at the Parliament building in New Baneshwar, Kathmandu.
All the preparations have been completed, the Election Commission said on Wednesday.
Two former Speakers, Ram Chandra Paudel of the Nepali Congress and Subas Chandra Nembang of the CPN-UML, are in the fray for the largely ceremonial office.
Paudel has the backing of an alliance of nine political parties including the ruling CPN (Maoist Centre) while Nembang has been fielded by the UML.
The term of the incumbent Bidya Devi Bhandari is set to be completed on March 12. An aide to President Bhandari said she is also preparing to move out of Sheetal Niwas, the president’s office. “And if the government asks her to vacate the office early, she is ready for that too,” the aide said.
The UML is the second largest party in Parliament and was a member of the ruling alliance until February 27. It decided to pull out of the government after its then partner, the Maoist Centre, refused to support a UML nominee for President.
The UML’s request to the Maoist Centre was based on their purported December 25 agreement, which made Maoist Centre chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal prime minister for the third time. According to UML leaders, the Maoist Centre, in exchange for the former’s backing for Dahal as prime minister, had promised to help elect UML nominees as Speaker and President.
But their understanding started unravelling after 17 days when, on January 10, the Congress, which had earlier refused to back Dahal’s bid for prime minister, gave him a vote of trust during a floor test in Parliament.
Since then, Maoist Centre chief Dahal started toeing the Congress line—that instead of a UML nominee, the country should elect a new President via national consensus.
Amid growing differences between the UML and the Maoist Centre, the latter joined hands with the Congress to form a new alliance for the presidential election.
The UML pulled out of the government and withdrew its support to Dahal on February 27.
The Rastriya Swatantra Party and the Nepal Majdoor Kisan Party have yet to decide which candidate they will support in Thursday's election. The Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) has decided not to participate in the President’s election.
“We have decided not to take part in the voting process,” Rajendra Lingden, the RPP chairman, said after the party’s meeting on Wednesday. “We have concluded that neither Paudel nor Nembang is an ideal candidate as the guardian of the constitution.”
The Rastriya Swatantra Party has, meanwhile, scheduled the party’s meeting for Thursday morning to decide who to support for the top job. Its leaders said both Paudel and Nembang have already reached out to them seeking their backing.
At the provincial level, the Hamro Nepali Party and Rizwan Ansari’s Sanghiya Samajbadi Party, which have two and one seats respectively in the Bagmati and Madhesh provincial assemblies, have yet to take a call on who to vote for in Thursday’s election.
“All necessary preparations for the election are over, and we will award the certificate to the winner by 7:00pm Thursday,” Chief Election Commissioner Dinesh Thapaliya told the Post.
According to the commission, two separate polling booths for federal and provincial lawmakers have been set up in Lhotse Hall of the Parliament building. Voting will start at 10:00am and close at 3:00pm on Thursday.
As many as 332 federal lawmakers and 550 provincial lawmakers are eligible to cast their votes in the election.
Two Congress lawmakers, Chandra Bhandrai and Tek Bahadur Gurung, can’t vote as Bhandari is undergoing treatment in India for his burn injuries while Gurung has been convicted in a corruption case. Additionally, CPN (Maoist Centre) lawmaker Barsha Man Pun, who is currently in China for treatment, will not take part in the vote. Janata Samajbadi Party lawmaker Shahnaz Rahman died last month.
The absence of these four lawmakers of the nine-party alliance means a loss of 326 vote weightage for presidential candidate Paudel. In the election for President, a vote cast by a member of both upper and lower houses will be considered to have the weight of 79 votes, whereas the vote cast by a member of the provincial assembly has the weight of 48 electoral votes.
Paudel told the Post that his election is certain with many major parties backing him.
“We are confident that we will win as all sides have promised support. As I have said repeatedly, if elected, my first and foremost duty would be to protect the constitution,” said Paudel.
Although the post of President is largely ceremonial, Nepal’s political parties have lately shown growing interest in the post owing to the discretionary powers the constitution accords to the post and the occasional (mis)use of office for vested interests.
“The post of President is a ceremonial one, but the way some have started comparing it with the former monarchy has sowed doubt among the public,” said former commissioner of the National Human Rights Commission Mohna Ansari. “If we believe in egalitarian values, there is no comparison between a democratic presidential system and an authoritarian monarchy.”
“Our understanding of the presidency is poor. Yes, the two previous occupants of the office made some iffy decisions, but that is also no guarantee that future Presidents will also be bad or that the position has somehow become irrelevant. Let time be the judge,” said Ansari.
A total of 884 members make up the Electoral College for the presidential election, including 275 members of the House of Representatives, 59 of the National Assembly and 550 of the seven provincial assemblies. The total weightage of the Electoral College is 52,786 votes, if no seat in the federal parliament and provincial assembly is vacant. A candidate must secure majority votes to be elected. A Congress office bearer said Paudel will get over 32,000 votes, enough for him to secure victory.
Nembang, who is contesting from the UML, told the Post that he too is confident of a win, even though he did not elaborate the reason for his confidence. Nembang hoped lawmakers would use their wisdom while casting their votes.