The Seat of

Sta­bil­ity in Nepal weak­ens, as power pol­i­tics grow more lethal.

Southasia - - Nepal - By Taha Ke­har

Af­ter the Con­stituent As­sem­bly failed to draft a new con­sti­tu­tion in May, Pres­i­dent Ram Baran Ya­dav threat­ened to take rad­i­cal mea­sures to en­sure that the government or­ga­nized elec­tions for the Con­stituent As­sem­bly in Novem­ber 2012. In or­der to safe­guard the demo­cratic process and pre­vent a po­lit­i­cal and con­sti­tu­tional dead­lock, Ya­dav con­tem­plated dis­miss­ing Prime Min­is­ter Babu­ram Bhattarai and ap­point­ing a new government. The growth in pres­i­den­tial ac­tivism in Nepal has raised some per­ti­nent con­cerns about the fu­ture of democ­racy in the re­gion. It re­flects a con­flict of in­ter­est be­tween the Pres­i­dent and the Prime Min­is­ter, which is likely to have dras­tic im­pli­ca­tions on power pol­i­tics in Nepal.

While Pres­i­dent Ya­dav’s crit­i­cism of the government ap­pears jus­ti­fi­able, it opens the por­tal to spec­u­la­tions of an im­pend­ing pres­i­den­tial coup. Ya­dav has dis­guised his ob­jec­tions re­gard­ing the in­abil­ity of the Maoist care­taker government to im­ple­ment con­sti­tu­tional re­forms as a pres­i­den­tial duty to up­hold the writ of the con­sti­tu­tion. How­ever, his ac­tions speak louder than his words. The pres­i­dent has, in re­cent years, re­fused to ap­prove or­di­nances pro­posed by the government. He has also strongly re­jected the in­tro­duc­tion of a full bud­get due to the ab­sence of po­lit­i­cal con­sen­sus. His over­all re­luc­tance to co­op­er­ate with the government has gen­er­ated doubts about his in­ten­tions to pre­serve demo­cratic prin­ci­ples. Bhattarai re­cently ac­cused Pres­i­dent Ya­dav of act­ing on be­half of the op­po­si­tion to desta­bilise the Maoist government.

Although this in­for­ma­tion is dif­fi­cult to ver­ify, it does pro­vide a co­gent ex­pla­na­tion for the fre­quent de­lays in Con­sti­tu­tional As­sem­bly polls. Op­po­si­tion par­ties have boy­cotted the elec­tions and are con­stantly in­sist­ing on Bhattarai’s res­ig­na­tion. The sub­stan­tial in­crease in pres­i­den­tial ac­tivism could there­fore be a care­fully con­structed ploy to do away with the present regime. Since Pres­i­dent Ya­dav is the guardian of the con­sti­tu­tion, any at­tempt to abuse his po­si­tion and ap­point a prime min­is­ter of his own choos­ing con­tra­venes demo­cratic ideals and thereby frus­trates the elec­toral process.

At this crit­i­cal junc­ture, it seems rather un­likely that the Maoist fac­tion will be able to re­assert its po­si­tion of con­trol and as­sume pub­lic of­fice. The key im­ped­i­ment to Maoist vic­tory is that party pol­i­tics is grad­u­ally tak­ing prece­dence over the de­sire for pre­serv­ing demo­cratic prin­ci­ples.

Since 2008, the Bhattarai-led Maoist care­taker government has failed to de­liver a new demo­cratic con­sti­tu­tion and forced the coun­try into a down­ward spi­ral. De­spite the Prime Min­is­ter’s at­tempts to en­gage op­po­si­tion par­ties to par­tic­i­pate in fresh elec­tions for the Con­stituent As­sem­bly, no con­crete agree­ment has been reached. The process of draft­ing a con­sti­tu­tion has been se­verely mis­man­aged and prone to fre­quent de­lays. Al­le­ga­tions of un­pro­fes­sional con­duct are likely to pro­duce dis­sat­is­fac­tion among the elec­torate and sig­nif­i­cantly re­duce re­elec­tion chances for the Maoist fac­tion.

Pres­i­dent Ya­dav is de­ter­mined to sub­vert the author­ity of the care­taker government by in­sist­ing that the cur­rent prime min­is­ter re­signs from his post. Un­til re­cently, he was ea­ger to rally sup­port for the re­moval of Bhattarai in the ju­di­ciary. How­ever, Pres­i­dent Ya­dav’s agenda has been de­terred by the con­sti­tu­tional lim­its to his pow­ers and the re­luc­tance of the army to in­ter­vene in the po­lit­i­cal sphere. Un­der the cir­cum­stances it seems un­likely that any pos­i­tive ini­tia­tives geared to­wards cre­at­ing a Con­stituent As­sem­bly can be made un­less the prime min­is­ter re­signs and the care­taker government is ousted by the op­po­si­tion par­ties.

Since the civil war, the Nepal Army has been a silent wit­ness to a se­ries of po­lit­i­cal cat­a­clysm. Over the last decade or so, the army has main­tained a largely apo­lit­i­cal stance and has not made many at­tempts to dis­rupt the po­lit­i­cal process. Even when the monar­chy was abol­ished in 2008,

the army did not in­sist on ap­ply­ing force to re­sist the down­fall of Nepal’s ‘tra­di­tional pa­trons.’ Fol­low­ing the rapid in­crease in pres­i­den­tial ac­tivism, the Nepal Army tried to up­hold its con­sti­tu­tional role and dis­tance it­self from the po­lit­i­cal sphere. Fur­ther­more, the Nepal Army has, in re­cent years, shown a com­mit­ment to up­hold the writ of the Army Act that spec­i­fies re­stricted con­di­tions wherein le­git­i­mate force can be ex­er­cised by the armed forces.

Un­der the sta­tus quo it seems par­tic­u­larly un­likely that the Nepal Army will in­ter­vene in curb­ing the growth of pres­i­den­tial ac­tivism. By main­tain­ing the po­si­tion of a silent spec­ta­tor, the army can mit­i­gate a civil war sce­nario and al­low po­lit­i­cal ac­tors to ne­go­ti­ate demo­cratic so­lu­tions to draft­ing a con­sti­tu­tion. How­ever, it seems out­ra­geous for the Nepal Army to adopt an ex­ces­sively le­nient at­ti­tude to­wards the is­sues of pres­i­den­tial ac­tivism in the ab­sence of a per­ma­nent con­sti­tu­tional frame­work. In cir­cum­stances where po­lit­i­cal af­fairs pose a sub­stan­tial threat and the Nepal Army has a di­rect stake, it will need to con­sci­en­tiously ex­er­cise force.

Hav­ing re­al­ized that the government of Nepal is in­com­pe­tent in man­ag­ing in­ter­nal con­flicts, the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity urged In­dia to me­di­ate the po­lit­i­cal cri­sis. Since this is a par­tic­u­larly con­tro­ver­sial is­sue, it is likely to gen­er­ate dis­sat­is­fac­tion and raise count­less ques­tions of ex­trater­ri­to­ri­al­ity. Since the gen­eral pub­lic is un­will­ing to ac­cept po­lit­i­cal in­ter­fer­ence by In­dia, any in­ter­ces­sion at this stage will only re­ceive wide­spread crit­i­cism. For in­stance, mass stu­dent protests were wit­nessed in Kath­mandu when In­dia tried to in­ter­vene in the cre­ation of a na­tional government in Nepal in May 2012.

The largely un­fa­vor­able re­sponse to­wards In­dia’s un­war­ranted in­ter­fer­ence in the in­ter­nal af­fairs of Nepal has led In­dia to as­sume a non-in­ter­ven­tion­ist ap­proach. In­dia has em­pha­sised that any form of ar­bi­tra­tion would be fun­da­men­tally un­suit­able. The po­lit­i­cal process in Nepal is ar­guably the most ef­fec­tive means of cop­ing with in­ter­nal con­flicts and can ad­e­quately ad­dress the prob­lems re­sult­ing from the po­lit­i­cal and con­sti­tu­tional dead­lock. But un­der the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal sce­nario, it seems rather un­likely that this will be a vi­able strat­egy.

Since the elec­tions for the Con­stituent As­sem­bly have been fur­ther de­layed, it ap­pears that pres­i­den­tial ac­tivism is the only road to re­cov­ery for Nepal. How­ever, po­lit­i­cal ac­tors, the army and the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity will need to be­come vig­i­lant and en­sure that any con­sti­tu­tional prin­ci­ples are not breached in an at­tempt to cre­ate a demo­cratic sys­tem of government.

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