Ruling party's plan to amend the constitution could invite a host of issuesThe party's plan to allow a National Assembly member to become prime minister could upset the public, and parties that have long been demanding amendments to ensure rights.
Saturday’s Secretariat meeting formed a three-member taskforce to amend the constitution to give a National Assembly member the same status as a member of the House of Representatives.
Bamdev Gautam, who was recently elevated to the post of party vice-chair by amending its statute, has now agreed to go to the Assembly. Earlier in January, Gautam had refused to become an Assembly member, arguing that the constitution should first be amended to pave the way for a National Assembly member to become the prime minister.
According to existing constitutional provisions, in order to become the prime minister, the candidate should be a member of the House of Representatives. A National Assembly member can only be appointed minister and elevated to deputy prime minister.
According to party insiders, NCP Chair and Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli was not in favour of amending the constitution to allow a member of the Upper House to become the prime minister. But he was not in a position to stop it either, a minister who has close relations with Oli told the Post on condition of anonymity.
In the nine-member party Secretariat, Oli is already in the minority as a majority of leaders, including Gautam and others from the former CPN-UML, have aligned with the party's other chair, Pushpa Kamal Dahal.
“Once the constitution is amended, any National Assembly member can become the prime minister,” said the minister. “But the whole exercise is aimed at clearing the way for Gautam to become prime minister.”
Legal experts, however, have cautioned against amending the constitution to suit the purposes of a small section of ruling party leaders. A constitution is a dynamic document and it can be amended, but there has to be a specific purpose and proper justification, they said.
“If the constitution is amended for the reasons we are hearing, it will amount to a misuse of the constitutional provision for amendments,” said Bhimarjun Acharya, a senior advocate with expertise on constitutional affairs. “It’s not the time to amend the constitution; nor is there any context.”
Gautam, who lost the 2017 parliamentary election from Bardiya-1, has long been demanding a major role in the party.
Last year, the party had almost decided to send Gautam to Parliament by asking its House member from Kathmandu-7 to resign and then fielding Gautam in a by-election. The party was even exploring the Dolpa constituency. But the plan couldn't go through due to criticism from within the party.
But over the past few months, the party has seen a massive change in internal dynamics. Oli, who had been running the party and the government unilaterally, suddenly found his position weakened after Dahal managed to wrest the Speaker post for the man of his choice and bring some key former UML leaders into his fold. This happened on the heels of Dahal getting greater control of the party by holding the “executive chair” position in return for giving Oli a full term as prime minister.
The plan to amend the constitution now comes as Gautam, who has had a love-hate relationship with Oli for years, is on Dahal’s side.
The taskforce to amend the constitution is headed by senior Nepal Communist Party (NCP) leader Madhav Kumar Nepal, with Subas Nembang and Khimlal Devkota as members. Oli and Nepal have not been on very good terms of late and the latter shares good relations with Dahal. Nembang, however, is considered loyal to Oli. During negotiations for the Speaker post, Oli had favoured Nembang.
Devkota told the Post that Dahal had informed him about his nomination as a member of the task force. “As far as I know, the task force will hold consultations with experts and provide suggestions accordingly,” said Devkota.
There are also reservations from some party members over the plan to amend the constitution for Gautam.
“The plan could backfire on the party," said Mani Thapa, a Standing Committee member. "Gautam has shown that he is desperate to be in power. That is not a good image for a leader. The public will criticise the party for amending the constitution to suit an individual’s interest.”
Another Standing Committee member warned that an amendment to the constitution to pave the way for a National Assembly member to become the prime minister could open the Pandora's box.
“There are several other pressing issues and many groups are demanding constitutional amendments to ensure the rights of some sections of society,” said Haribol Gajurel, also a Standing Committee member. “But the party is planning to amend the constitution for an individual.”
Both Thapa and Gajurel represent the former Maoist party and have close relations with Dahal.
But another leader, who is Oli’s close confidante, told the Post on condition of anonymity that an amendment to the constitution for one individual could earn a bad name for the party.
“How can it even be justified?” he said.
According to Acharya, the expert on constitutional matters, if the communist party pushes for the planned amendment, it will violate the principle behind constitutional amendments.
“The constitution must only be amended to suit the national interest,” said Acharya. “It would be unfortunate if we keep amending the document that outlines the country’s guiding principles."