Nepalese politics continues to be on the brink, and there is no sign of any consensus whatsoever among the political parties. Meanwhile our capital has taken on the appearance of a war zone since the opposition parties decided to protest against the present caretaker Maoist-led government. Most importantly, there are rumours, allegations and claims by the Maoist leaders and members of the government that the President has been trying to stage a coup by which Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai would be dismissed and a replacement appointed. The Unified Maoist party leaders have been claiming that the President was planning it with the support of the Nepalese Army, the international community and the security agencies.
Against these allegations made by the UPCN Maoist-led coalition government, the main opposition parties agreed to stand together. At a meeting, top leaders of the Nepali Congress (NC) and the CPN-UML parties concluded that the government was deliberately attacking the institution of the Presidency. If those allegations are in fact true, we need to think carefully about the constitutional role of the President. The Interim Constitution does not envisage an active president: it accords him merely the status of guardian of the Constitution. The President is not so much an individual as a respected institution, and that institution has no constitutional teeth. However, if the President really is the custodian of the Constitution and of the nation, to what extent should he be blamed for the current political deadlock? Does he have any authority at all under the Interim Constitution to act alone? Should he have played a more positive role in promoting and consolidating the nascent peace process and constitution writing in the country? Should he not have a role in resolving the deadlock?
Just now the political scenario is changing. The opposition parties are exploring new agendas and are building and re-building alliances for street protests that demand that the PM step down. However, they have no proper plan or programme, and street politics cannot in any way offer a safe exit from the current crisis? Where is any sign of real reconciliation among the political parties at a time when the country is deteriorating so fast? Considering all these circumstances, might the President seriously be preparing to grab power? Could such a move be even practical or productive?
The opposition parties are encouraging the President to act forcefully. The gap between the President and the PM seems to be widening, and so could any action by the President bring any solution to the current crisis? I think not: far from contributing to a solution, any take-over would only perpetuate the political crisis in the country, and a broader constitutional crisis will loom if the opposition forces continue to lean on the largely ceremonial president to challenge the government. Even the slightest movement towards power grabbing by him may lead to serious political consequences and confrontation. The Interim Constitution clearly states that the President is protector of the Constitution: it does not provide any authority for him to act on his own. What then should be happening?
Firstly, the political leaders have totally failed to achieve a national consensus. They have raised only the issue of changing the government and have failed to present a clear roadmap to ending the current political crisis. The President must continue in his unbiased role of encouraging the formation of a workable, small-size government based on political consensus rather than on political bhagbanda and bargaining. He must continue to call for a unity government that is the foremost need of the country today. It is becoming crystal clear that fresh elections will not happen unless there is a national unity government in place soon. The negotiations among the political forces must therefore be focussed on the mechanics of achieving such a government. The President has an important balancing role in making this happen, but his activities must be limited to piling pressure on the political parties in favour of a cross-party agreement for the sake of the country’s future.
Secondly, the President has no choice but to continue to play a constitutional ceremonial role. His principal duty is to bridge the gap between the political parties and the people: any role beyond this could be catastrophic for the country. The Presidency must remain symbolic, offering guidance and guardianship to the people as a single nation. If he wishes to become more active, he will establish a wrong precedent for the country. He must co-operate with the political forces: otherwise, the future of the state will hang in the balance. Any personality conflict between the President and the PM cannot be allowed to bring the whole nation even closer to the brink. The so-called opposition parties must cease inciting the President to act unconstitutionally. No one should be dragging him into controversy, and his positive image should be allowed to remain intact. The political parties should be assessing what has gone wrong and should significantly now revise the design and composition of their negotiations. Their talks and decision-making should become more transparent and inclusive, and their leaders should become more accountable and responsible towards the people and the nation.
Thirdly, democracy depends for its functioning on reasoning, tradition and constitutionalism. Constitutionalism is a principle that, according to Carl J. Friedrick, stems from the most profound values of humanity, human society and justice. We must focus on establishing a just society based on these values and principles. The horrendous civil war that we faced for a decade cannot be declared over until its cause and consequences are adequately addressed. The violence perpetrated by the security forces and the Maoists in the name of the people’s war still go unpunished. The political parties must work to make this happen.
The President must be the assistant, co-ordinator and bridge-maker in a project that can pave the way to ending the transition smoothly without bloodshed and violence. It is argued that political crises are like powerful storms: they strip away false images and subject people, institutions and movements to severe tests. We are in the agni-pariksha in this: it is to be hoped that we come through it safely.
Finally, today, the overwhelming demand in the country is for democracy. The ballot box must rule in the country, and the rule by gun must be halted. Every citizen should be co-operative since distinct advantages stem from helping each other. We must continue the political debate and strengthen our institutions, and we must resolve to struggle for a better country. The President must know his limits and focus always on consensus politics. He should do nothing without the consent of the political parties. He must focus on achieving a national unity government under the Interim Constitution and the established traditions and then recognise the nation’s need to go for a fresh election.
The role of President must remain a ceremonial one. The office must be kept above partisan politics as per constitutional norms and established principles and practices. No political force should be allowed to misuse the institution for the sake of short-term political gain: we must keep the country's highest institution as clean as possible.
The solution to the present political deadlock must be sought from within a broad political consensus. No coup by anyone can solve the present crisis in the country. There is no alternative but to forge a political understanding among the parties and their leaders that can lead to fresh elections. All parties must now focus on holding elections rather staging street protests. The on-going cold war between President, PM and the opposition must be halted immediately. Any attempt by the President to exceed his powers will have disastrous consequences. In no way should he even think to cross the fence of the Sital Niwas. Should he for one moment think of becoming king, he would surely face the same fate as our former monarch. His political future is safe only if he is willing to act as consolidator and promoter of Nepalese politics as a titular head of the state.