Do we really need an executive prez?Right after adopting federalism, proposing another big change sounds preposterous
Pushpa Kamal Dahal, co-chairman of the recently united Nepal Communist Party (NCP), is known for making ill-timed political comments, and immediately going on the defensive if the reactions are not to his liking. Two weeks ago, he created a sort of ripple by suggesting that Nepal should now move ahead to elect an executive president, replacing the present Westminster-style parliamentary democracy system. This idea came to fore at very interesting juncture of time.
First, Sanghiya Samajbadi Forum-Nepal (SSFN) led by Upendra Yadav had just joined the government consolidating the government’s strength to more than two-thirds majority in the Parliament—the number enough to amend the constitution at the will of the government. And, SSFN leaders were also seconding Dahal’s idea regarding the executive president.
Second, on June 5, President Bidya Devi Bhandari organised a joint meeting of four top political leaders of the country—Prime Minister KP Oli and Puspa Kamal Dahal from the ruling NCP and Sher Bahadur Deuba and Ram Chandra Paudel from Nepali Congress (NC), the main opposition party in parliament. She ‘requested’ the ruling and opposition parties to ‘work together’ for economic prosperity of the country. How that will work out will be interesting because the NC as the opposition is now rendered so ineffective that it is struggling even to save its face.
With such a strong parliamentary majority, there is nothing the government cannot do it wishes, be it with or without the opposition’s support. But an implicit insinuation of the meeting was that, the president is willing and capable of politically admonishing “all” the parties. Later on it was revealed that the meeting was the brainchild of none other than Prime Minister Oli himself, which in turn rose heckles, further.
Third, Dahal’s proposal instantly courted controversy because the country had just begun to bask on much awaited political stability. Another round of political experimentation will not only be unnecessary but will also not bode well for the country. Moreover, this to be advocated by the ruling party themselves is rather antithetic.
Nevertheless, Dahal on last Sunday in Biratnagar almost backed down stating, “it is not a time to be embroiled in the debate of executive presidency. It could well be an agenda for next election.” But the cardinal question that remains unanswered is: at the first place, what prompted the government touted as so strong to contemplate about inviting another uncertainty in the name of installing an executive presidency? Especially when the country has just settled in a federal parliamentary system after an excruciatingly long political bargain and chaos which adversely affected its economy too.
Hypothesis abound. As hinted above, the agenda of the executive president this time around is essentially Oli’s idea. However, Dahal found it appropriate to take to it public to prove his ‘creative’ charisma. But, as always, Oli has outsmarted Dahal on this occasion as well. Contrary to Dahal’s contention on having a directly elected executive president, Oli’s steady plan allegedly is to convert the current ceremonial presidency into an executive one by amending the constitution on the weight of overwhelming majority of the ruling party in Parliament.
His timeframe is defined. If things worked out as planned, he wants to materialise the envisaged change right before the first half of the tenure of current parliament, when, as promised, he is supposed to handover the premiership to Dahal. Instead, he is keen to see current president Bhandari reigning over the state immediately after he calls it quits.
Apart from these distant dreams, as a shrewd politician, Oli must have realised the need for a weapon that can effectively deflect the public wrath emanating from impending failure of his government to live up to its own promises of peace, stability and prosperity. One such agenda which is likely to distract the national discourse away from government’s performance evaluation to something arcane could have been none other than the mirage of ‘executive presidency’.
In a sense, the agenda is an outcome of Oli’s desperation. The government budget for the next fiscal year failed to meet the general public’s expectations and contribute to institutionalise federalism. Moreover, it in fact ravaged already shaky capital market, dented on potential investors’ psyche and alarmed international development partners. On the governance front, pardon granted to Bal Krishna Dhungel—a former Maoist guerrilla who was convicted and jailed for murdering a businessman, was a clear hint that a long lingered truth and reconciliation process would be further compromised.
Oli in his temptation to consolidate his power by uniting his party UML with the Maoists now seems trapped to succumb to the latter’s undue pressure and save them from all crimes against humanity committed during a decade-long insurgency. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP) established to look into these issues are deliberately left in limbo since the last five years.
Bad signs ahead
Recent announcement by the government to curtail the activities of the civil society organisation, in the pretext of a few working against both social as well as legal norms, is highly objectionable too. Instead of adopting a transparent and fair regulatory framework to govern the sector, the government, Home Ministry in particular headed by an ex-Maoist leader Ram Bahadur Thapa, appears determined to go afterthose specifically working in the field of human rights, good governance and inclusion. This move implicitly stems out of the intention to silence the voice of victims whose rights were violated during the insurgency.
Without following a due course of law and investigation, and at clear loggerheads with the ministry concerned, Thapa is ‘tackling’ the erring civil contractors by mobilising police. Such move is reminiscent of the kangaroo courts Maoists once operated. These are only a few examples. There are ample indications that the current government seems hell bent on shrinking the civic space in all its manifestations.
The world history is the testimony: a politically powerful government that fails to meet the public aspirations is headed towards dictatorship. It resorts to hoodwinking the public sentiment, making them believe that a leader with further consolidated power would solve all the problems. And the recent quest and campaign for proposing executive president for Nepal is no different political orchestration.