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