Backtracking On Executive Presidency Parties Made A Mistake
A band of youths were effusively engaged, the other day, at Bhugol Park in Kathmandu to garner support for their campaign in favour of a directly elected prime minister in Nepal. They were requesting the commuters to extend support to their campaign by putting their signatures on the white cloth hanging from the wall of the park. Mobilised under the banner of The Rising Youths (Jageka Yuva), they were distributing fliers which mentioned why they had launched this campaign.
The flier stated that the youths have been out on this campaign in favour of a directly elected prime minister because the prevailing variant of the parliamentary polity in Nepal offers a breeding ground for festering political instability to the detriment of democracy and prosperity of the country. The flier explained the rationale in favour of a directly elected prime minister, stressing that it would contribute to political stability, create a strong and stable government, help fulfill the development aspirations of the people, build a broad-based and legitimate leadership and so on.
As the proposal for a directly elected prime minister in lieu of the Westminster model that we have adopted in Nepal today in our constitution was mooted by the CPN (UML) in its manifesto issued for the last Constituent Assembly election, the campaign launched by the youths echoes the position held by the aforesaid party.
It may be that the said band of youths were working at the behest of the powerful youth wing of the UML, but the issue that was raised was very much apt and relevant. The issue
of a directly elected executive head, which was abandoned during the time of promulgating the new constitution in September 2015, has been raked up at this time again. As the constitution has already given continuity to the parliamentary model, the discussion on the mode and modality of the formation of the government now – parliamentary or presidential - does not make any sense.
It needs to be mentioned that the Maoists had advocated a directly elected president while the CPN (UML) had put forth its stance in favour of a directly elected prime minister. Not only this, there was reportedly overwhelming support from the people in favour of the proposition for a directly elected head of the government as indicated by the submissions from the people in the Constituent Assembly.
A substantive majority of civil society opinions were in favour of the executive presidency. But political parties like the Maoists and UML abandoned this agenda, and missed the opportunity to give a historic turn to the polity of the country. In fact, as reported, when the political parties were locked in the debate to choose the form of government, there was a possibility of agreement among the political stakeholders on the presidential model of government. But they compromised on this very vital agenda and lent their support to the continuity of the parliamentary model.
When the political leaders were finalising the constitution, this writer had interacted with Dr. Babu Ram Bhattarai, chief of the Constituent Assembly Committee mandated to facilitate political consensus on the contentious constitutional issues. This writer had made a plea with him not to give up the long held stance in favour of a directly elected executive president.
Dr. Bhattarai, who quit his party, the UCPN-Maoist, and floated the new political party called Naya Shakti Nepal, seemed not very serious and had retorted that the issue had already been resolved in favour of the parliamentary model.
These days Dr. Bhattarai talks of the importance of the presidential model and shows commitment to fight for it to secure the stability and prosperity of the country. But what use is ranting about the need for the presidential model at this time when not much emphasis was laid in its pursuit when the country was writing the new federal constitution, and there were clearer opportunities to argue, propose and persuade to write the relevant provision in the new constitution?
It was indeed the outgoing Prime Minister, KP Sharma Oli, who had backtracked on the party’s stance on a directly elected prime minister and joined hands with the Nepali Congress - the traditional champion of the parliamentary model - to surrender the important agenda on the pretence of negotiation and settlement.
Political leaders are shortsighted and, therefore, tend to make compromise on their principles for short-term gains and benefits at the expense of the long-term political goal. Had the leaders agreed on the presidential model through negotiation and accorded a space in the constitution, political stability would have been achieved, which is a much needed precondition for the socio-economic development of the country.
Now whining for political stability is like crying over spilt milk since the opportunity for opting it through the constitutional provision has been grossly missed. It may take decades before parties like the NC recognise the importance of the institution of the executive presidency for political stability and development.
Needless to say, the average life span of a government has not been more than a year for the last several years, and the latest casualty has been the government headed by the UML leader, KP Oli, who was voted out the other day after its formation just nine months ago. This country is ill destined to undergo the nasty experience of political bickering, moral bankruptcy and socio-economic stagnation before the relevance and importance of a directly elected prime minister or president to check the moral and political disaster is recognised.