President’s involvement in party politics unwarranted and undermines high office, analysts sayBidya Devi Bhandari runs into controversy, once again, after she tries to ‘manage’ rising tensions in the ruling Nepal Communist Party.
There is a lot going on in the ruling Nepal Communist Party. Leaders are baying for each others’ blood. Factional feud has reached a tipping point and the party is facing an imminent danger of a split. Leaders are making statements, holding meetings and attempting negotiations to keep the party unity intact. Amid all this, there is one person who has been working extra hours to save the party from splitting. That’s President Bidya Devi Bhandari.
Bhandari’s efforts, however, have met with severe criticism, as analysts and leaders from the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) calling her involvement in party politics an action that undermines her high office.
Amid rising tension in the ruling party, Bhandari on Tuesday held a meeting with vice-chair Bamdev Gautam and asked him to “play a constructive role” for party unity.
Gautam’s private secretariat confirmed his meeting with President Bhandari.
Gautam can be crucial in the party as he is a key leader in the party’s nine-memer Secretariat, which is divided between the factions led by Prime Minister and party chair KP Sharma Oli and the other chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal. Dahal has the backing of senior leaders Madhav Kumar Nepal, Jhala Nath Khanal and Narayan Kaji Shrestha in the Secretariat.
Hari Sharma, who served as a political and foreing relations adviser to Ram Baran Yadav, the first president of Nepal after the country became a federal republic, said that the involvement of the Office of the President in party politics, especially to help iron out an internal dispute in a particular party, is unfortunate.
“The President must avoid close consultations with party leaders to help resolve the conflict in a particular party,” Sharma told the Post.
Bhandari, wife of the late CPN-UML leader Madan Bhandari, was an active politician before she was elected the country’s President on October, 28, 2015.
The Office of the President is envisioned as an impartial and non-partisan entity and the head of state is considered the guardian of the people, the country and the constitution.
But despite becoming the President, Bhandari in the past too was involved in the ruling party’s internal politics. Back in July, the President had gone beyond her brief to help settle rising tensions in the ruling party which was in a severe crisis, with Oli facing a tough challenge from the opponents to resign both as party chair and prime minister.
“The President must stop her extra-constitutional exercises,” said Shree Krishna Aniruddh Gautam, a political analyst who also writes columns for the Post’s sister paper Kantipur. “It is not the job of the President to get involved when a particular party goes through some internal problems.”
In July, Bhandari held meetings with Oli and Dahal in an attempt to resolve internal disputes in the party. The Office of the President has in the past faced criticism also for not only giving undue advantage to the government but also for standing in its defence in situations where it was not at all required.
When the country was faced with an imminent crisis due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the government was busy downplaying the coronavirus. Amid the government’s chest-thumping, the President decided to address the nation and defended the government, saying the coronavirus had not affected Nepal because of the government’s prudent moves. Nepal reported its first Covid-19-related death on May 16, just a day after the President’s address.
Analysts say the problem is not that the President is meeting some party leaders but the concern is she is going all out when it comes to her former party—the UML—and its members.
The recent crisis in the ruling Nepal Communist Party arose after Oli himself told Dahal during a recent meeting that “it’s better to part ways.” Oli’s suggestion came in response to Dahal’s complaints that the former was taking decisions unilaterally despite an agreement in September that all party and government decisions would be taken after consultation and consensus among the leadership.
According to leaders close to Dahal, Oli went on to say that he won’t abide by any decisions of the party committees and that even if any decision is taken through a majority vote, he would rather take a “big action”.
Many in the party believe Oli’s “big action” could entail some unprecedented moves, including a party split through an ordinance and House dissolution, which are not possible without the support of the President.
Back in April also, Oli had introduced ordinances, one related to party split, which were swiftly approved by the Office of the President.
As tensions rose in the party, Bhandari on Tuesday called Gautam to her office to discuss the party issues. According to a Standing Committee member, who spoke on condition of anonymity, Gautam was advised to “stand with Oli.”
Gautam is one of the five Secretariat members who were present at a meeting called by Dahal at his residence in Khumaltar on Sunday to brief about his meeting with Oli. At Sunday’s meeting Dahal had told the leaders that Oli had proposed splitting the party as he would not be compelled to abide by party decisions.
QWith Dahal, Nepal and Khanal banding together, Oli appears to be in the minority in the party. Despite that, Oli has not stopped issuing threats and insiders believe he must have a couple of cards up his sleeve that embolden him to threaten the opponents and make bold statements.
On Wednesday, speaking at a public function in Kathmandu, Oli said there is no need for him to resign, just because “some leaders and people” are saying so and that his resignation would lead the country towards a disaster.
Many in the ruling party say the line between Baluwatar and Sheetal Niwas has been blurred and that the Office of the President is losing its honour and respect because the head of state is too much involved in petty party politics.
At least two senior leaders in the ruling party, who wished not to be named, said that the President seems to have become the leader of a camp in the party.
“Her concern does not seem to be the party per se; she is more concerned about Oli and his government,” said a leader. “It has become a trend that the President has always sided with one camp and worked for one camp which is led by Oli.”
Analysts say Nepal’s fledgling political system could be at risk if offices like the President’s fail to work impartially. Constitutionally, the President in Nepal neither reigns nor governs but the head of state holds a crucial ceremonial position of dignity.
“The President is not an individual; the President is an institution,” said Chandra Kant Gyawali, who specialises on constitutional affairs. “Lest anyone forget, the President is the patron of the constitution, not a leader of a political party.”
According to Gyawali, the constitution envisions the President to be above partisan interest who serves as the guardian of the country and the people.
“The President is not allowed to be involved in any political activities,” said Gyawali. “The President is required to act on the advice of the Council of Ministers. The President’s involvement in political activities and political affairs undermines the dignity of the high office.”