Reading between the linesDahal’s desire for an excutive presidential system is driven by a personal interest that could not be in the country’s interest
KP Oli administration relishes unprecedentedly favourable situation for transforming the country to prosperity. By constitutional guarantee and comfortable strength of the ruling party in the parliament, stability of government is unchallengeable. Unlike in the past, it is enjoying the ambience, where there is no ‘threat’ from monarchy and insurgent groups. Neighbouring India and China do not have ground for intervention in domestic affairs. Rather they are competing with each other for increasing their influence in Nepal. Their concerns remain ensuring security matters and shielding influential foreign presence. Also, main opposition Nepali Congress (NC), has become non-existent since the last general elections. Amidst this background, instead of galloping for makeover in the golden era for developmental advancement, the left government, however, seems crawling. People voted for the left alliance for mainly two reasons—stability and prosperity. They do not want personal ambitions of KP Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal precede the national agenda of development.
Nepal adopted parliamentary model in the constitution as two of the three major political forces—NC and then CPN UML—were against executive presidential model whereas Dahal’s then Maoist party was pleading for it. Congress pleaded for parliamentary system while the UML and Maoists were for directly elected prime ministerial or directly elected presidential systems respectively before the parties compromised for present system. The situation has now turned to another side after the two major communist parties merged on 17 May. The newly formed Nepal Communist Party (NCP)’s co-chair Dahal has recurrently invoked the agenda of the executive presidential system. He has also expressed his ambition of becoming executive president by amending the constitution. However, party’s co-chair and Prime Minister, KP Oli is mum regarding it after the party unification. Likewise, the joint election manifesto of the previous two parties announced before November-December 2017 elections did not have any agenda about the new forms of governance.
If the party could univocally decide to go for the presidential system, change in the existing parliamentary system can be possible. As per Article 274 (8), two-thirds majorities of the existing members of both the houses are necessary and the CPN needs support of only five additional members from outside the party to meet the requirement. Since the existing government enjoys comfortable two-thirds majority, it can bring a bill of constitutional amendment and pass from the parliament making a way for executive presidential system. However, will Oli-camp be ready for this, is the crucial question.
Ambition of a political leader can change the fate of a country. Such alteration can be either positive or negative for the nation. Hence, Nepal has evidently faced both rejoicing and stark consequences in its history. Interest of Ranas to prolong their reign led to Nepal-India friendship treaty in 1950, which has ever drawn criticism of not upholding sovereign equality. King Mahendra’s dream to become active monarch pushed the country to a 30-year party-less Panchayat system and king Gyanendra’s wish to become powerful monarch led to the abolition of monarchy. Both incidents painted bleak pictures in the country’s history of obstructing the development process and catalysing instability. Girija Prasad Koirala’s ambition to become first president might have pushed the Congress to go for republicanism. Then Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s ambition to turn Nepal to a socialist state and become its executive chief pushed the country to the decade long conflict killing 17,000 people thereby jeopardising overall development process. Again, Dahal’s ambition to become executive president has again come to fore evidently.
Lately, among other reasons, the different political ambitions of Oli and Dahal made the unification possible. However, by what ambitions were the two leaders exactly guided by are unknown as they cautiously and strategically express their interests. If becoming powerful prime minister and getting the credit for uniting the communists is Oli’s ambition, it has already been achieved. Dahal, on the other hand, needs to go miles before fulfilling his ambition of becoming executive president as constitutional amendment will not be sufficient. If anything, it will be his higher level of command within the unified party and people’s increased faith on him and his party in the next election that can elevate him to the higher position.
Keen to advance the opinion in support of directly elected presidential system, Dahal is raising the issue as cautiously as possible since criticism against it can backfire. Holding the agenda at a time when the country has begun to implement the new constitution in a full-fledged manner can dilute the issue of development and prosperity and push the country to political wrangling that the country has been facing for long.
Excavation of shelved political agendas like forms of governance and devising plan of action towards that end at this stage may again polarise the country’s politics diverting the agendas of stability and prosperity. As the budding structures of local, provincial and federal governments need to strengthen extensively to achieve real change in society, need of the hour is to focus on the issues of what the ruling parties vowed to people before the election. Failure to act upon it when the time is opportune will not bode well—neither for the political parties, nor for the country.
Acharya is a lecturer at RR Campus. He can be reached at email@example.com