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Credibility at stake
The position of prime minister in the model of democracy that Nepal is practicing is no longer powerful and exulted. He does have many powers, as far as theory goes, but he can exercise them only upon the aid and advice of others, seen or unseen in the formal structure of the state. In a way, the executive prime minister of Nepal has long become a ceremonial prime minister. The revolutionary change in his status has gone largely unnoticed.
The recent helplessness of the prime minister is a new case in point. The winter session of the legislature has been put off, while the demand for his resignation is still unsettled. The parties in the House were allowed to discuss his fate, but he was not called to cut short the discussion and register a confidence motion to show whether he deserves continuation or needs to resign as somebody who does not command the confidence of his electors.
The question is how could a system of government, where the principal executive of the country has been deliberately kept at such a low ebb in the power structure, guarantee a functioning democracy, not to mention adoption of a new constitution. Unfortunately, the party bosses of the present coalition have underscored how educative the Article 55A process must have been to the people as to the demand for the prime minister's resignation amid the current political wrangling and its legitimacy.
Instead, the prime minister has been put on hold. He is under a bond to resign no sooner than there is a consensus between major parties clearing the way for another national government. The consensus seems to be elusive because all the considerations that are involved in the negotiations are not on the table. For the purpose of the ongoing transition, it hardly matters whether the UCPN (Maoist) runs the government or one of the present coalition partners, or the government of Madhav Kumar Nepal, with or without any reshuffle.
The major issue is whether there is a guarantee that that Constituent Assembly is going to produce a "democratic" constitution based on civilised parameters, and whether such a constitution is designed to protect Nepal's independence and its national interest. This concern must not be evaded in the process. Yet, that is not the concern anymore.
The term of the CA has been extended for one additional year without really putting this issue on the table, and making it a significant item on the agenda. There was not even a debate whether it needs a one-year extension, or a three-month or six-month extension. While the Maoists did not have any particular proposal, the Nepali Congress had proposed only a six-month extension. The fact, however, remains that even the government had no position in this matter. When CA Chairperson Subas C. Nembang strongly pressured the prime minister to lodge the constitutional amendment bill by May 16, the government agreed to do it. The move was intended to allow sufficient time for in-house procedures, should there be a decision to extend the life of the CA, based on any forthcoming consensus between the parties. The one-year extension was just the proposition of the legal draftsmen who worked on the draft bill, knowing that there could be pressure to reduce the term. Not even the UML had cleared it as proposed.
Be that as it may, there is no controversy that CPN-UML leader K.P. Oli (acting on behalf of the coalition partners) had agreed to the resignation of the prime minister within five days at the time when the three-point understanding was signed between his party, the Maoists and the Nepali Congress at midnight of May 28. Unprincipled though it was to sign such an indenture without sorting out the crucial issues of divergence between the present coalition and the Maoists, it is the truth that the resignation of the prime minister was negotiated in the same spirit in which the Maoist leaders have been claiming it now. There could be questions on whether an understanding on this particular issue should have been sought or not. But the attempt to back out from the understanding, so cleanly worked out, does not help the credibility of the political parties and their ability to bring changes.
Quite the contrary, after some initial hesitation, the UML has now concluded that the prime minister does not have to quit unless the parties arrive at a consensus on implementation of past agreements on the peace process and constitution drafting. It was said that the first point of the three-point understanding, which is about implementing past agreements, and the third point on immediate resignation of the prime minister should be implemented simultaneously. Additionally, some UML and Nepali Congress leaders have said that there was no such understanding, and that there should be an agreement on integration of Maoist combatants, return of properties seized during the insurgency and dismantling of the paramilitary structure of the Young Communist League (YCL) before the prime minister resigns. Maybe these arguments have elements of truth, but the understanding signed between the major parties unconditionally states that the prime minister shall resign. No arguments can vitiate what has been written in black and white.
It is not clear what loss the present coalition would suffer if the prime minister resigns as agreed. Such a resignation does not mean that the leader of the opposition is going to form a government at once. As long as the coalition is intact, the opposition cannot make any dent in the current balance of power. Rather, such a resignation would fulfill the main Maoist demand at the moment. It would then be their turn to implement what they had agreed on through the three-point understanding. Such an arrangement would allow the government to continue as a "caretaker" and also create the political environment for forward progress.
A caretaker government can continue performing the rudimentary duties of the state (including maintaining law and order and ensuring that its machinery continues to function so that the day-to-day task of administration can be carried out). It cannot remain in that capacity for more than a reasonable period. But this environment will help the major parties to work on compromise solutions. If the remaining part of the three-point understanding is not honestly implemented, the government can always activate the constitutional process and reclaim its lost status as a full-fledged government. It is not clear why this straight constitutional way out is being ignored by the government and its coalition partners.