When Presidents and Vice-presidents stoop to play go-betweensExperts say it is unbecoming for Vice President Nanda Bahadur Pun to host meetings to bring his former comrades Dahal and Bhattarai together politically.
President Bidya Devi Bhandari was a busy person when the crisis was escalating in then Nepal Communist Party (NCP) in late 2020 posing threat to the prime ministership of the party’s chairperson, KP Sharma Oli.
She made every attempt openly to ensure the NCP does not split. From holding joint and separate meetings with Oli and the party’s c0-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal, she also asked Bamdev Gautam, then party’s vice-chair, to “play a constructive role” to ensure the NCP’s unity.
Her active role in helping address internal disputes of a particular party had drawn flak, with critics saying she failed to maintain the decorum of the office she held.
Lately, Vice President Nanda Bahadur Pun seems to be attempting to broker a deal between two of his comrades from the insurgency days.
Over the last few months, Vice President Pun’s residence has served as the meeting venue for CPN (Maoist Centre) chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Janata Samajbadi Party federal council chair Baburam Bhattarai.
Pun has hosted Dahal and Bhattarai at his residence at least four times in recent times, according to leaders familiar with the development.
Officials at the Vice President’s secretariat admitted that his residence has been visited by Dahal and Bhattarai to hold meetings.
“They have met on several occasions at the Vice President’s residence. They believe they feel comfortable meeting each other in the presence of the Vice President as they are old colleagues,” Suk Bahadur Roka, chief personal secretary to Vice President Pun, told the Post. “However, I am unaware of the issues they discuss.”
He said the Vice President might have a wishful thinking that there should be unity between Dahal and Bhattarai. He, however, denied his efforts in bringing the two leaders together.
Bhattarai is in final preparations to part ways with the Janata Samajbadi Party while Dahal wants to consolidate the party by bringing former Maoist leaders under one umbrella.
Dahal and Bhattarai together led the 10-year “people’s war.”
Their partnership continued until Bhattarai in September 2015 quit the then UCPN (Maoist), days after the promulgation of the constitution, to form the Naya Shakti Party.
Pun was one of the four deputy commanders of the then People’s Liberation Army under Dahal. He was a Standing Committee member while he got elected as the country’s Vice President.
Experts say it’s incumbent upon the individuals holding high offices to maintain the dignity of those offices and they should avoid engaging in internal matters of political parties and individual politicians.
“We have failed to appoint the right person in the right place. The undeserving people cannot maintain the dignity of the position they occupy,” Bhojraj Pokharel, a former chief election commissioner and good governance crusader, told the Post. “Such activities are increasing because we have failed to hold them accountable.”
According to him, the Vice President would have hesitated to play a go-between between Dahal and Bhattarai if such political activities of such constitutional position holders had been discussed in Parliament and become an issue of academic discussions.
Dr Ram Baran Yadav, the first President of the republic Nepal, also hadn’t kept him aloof from meddling in activities of the Nepali Congress where he was a deputy general secretary before getting elected as the Head of State. In the race for party president between Sushil Koirala and Sher Bahadur Deuba in the 2010 general convention, Yadav had sided with Koirala. Yadav even sought votes for Koirala by calling party representatives at his office.
Pokharel says not just the President and Vice-President, those leading the governments or the constitutional bodies too have not been able to maintain the decorum of the offices they hold.
“There seems to be a competition going on to set bad precedents,” he said.
Political experts say the constitution has specified roles and responsibilities of the President and Vice-President and defines them as protectors of the constitution.
“The President and Vice-President should be working for the broader national and people’s interest, not in the interest of any political parties,” Meena Vaidya Malla, professor and former chief of the Central Department of Political Science at the Tribhuvan University. “They hold non-partisan positions which should be proved through their actions. They have no excuse to be seen working at the behest of political parties.”
The main duty of the President shall be to abide by and protect the constitution, says Article 61. Similarly, Article 67 says a person who holds a political office to be filled by way of election, nomination or appointment is appointed as Vice-president, his or her such office shall ipso facto be vacant.
The day Pun was elected as Vice President in October 2015 he had to forgo all the responsibilities of the then UCPN (Maoist). He was the party’s Standing Committee member.
Constitutional experts say the President and the Vice President are the guardians of the state and their positions do not allow them to engage in settling the disputes of particular parties.
“The President or Vice President are institutions in themselves. By engaging in party politics they are not just devaluing their positions but also eroding the dignity of offices they hold,” senior advocate Purna Man Shakya, also a professor at Nepal Law Campus, told the Post. “This is very unfortunate.”