Friday, March 1, 2024

Politics of president elections

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Similar to the paradox of having the weakest prime minister with the strongest support in the parliament, we are entering into another paradox. We are contesting for a president that is supposed to be ceremonial in nature. At the outset, it looks so absurd for everyone eyeing and vying for a position that holds no or little executive power. Now, we are even observing hectic visits by foreign dignitaries and diplomats. Things don’t just happen for the sake of happening.

One needs to have a deeper dive to understand the politics behind president elections, scheduled to be held on 9 March.

The lacklustre or rather poor performance of the last two presidents is setting a tone for the third controversial president in FDR Nepal. Dr. Ram Baran Yadav bristled with a charm only because his successor Madame Bidya Devi Bhandari turned out to be a worse alternative. Now, we need to select even worst president that could bring some charm to Madame Bhandari. Let us hope, her luggage, or jhitty gunta, will not be hurriedly packed up and bundled up onto a truck, as with Dr. Yadav, during her final departure from Sheetal Niwas.   

The two biggest parties in the parliament, NC and UML, are digging their trenches with “my-way or high-way” attitudes while the distant second runner up party, the Maoist Centre, is calling for a “national consensus president”.

The two biggest parties in the parliament, NC and UML, are digging their trenches with “my-way or high-way” attitudes while the distant second runner up party, the Maoist Centre, is calling for a “national consensus president”. However, Maoists hold a decisive vote – whichever side they vote will be the next president. They hold power and, at the same time, are vulnerable to the intense tug-of-war going on between two biggies.

At one end, UML is reminding them that “things will be settled as agreed on 25 December when a new coalition got conceived to put Prachanda into power”. At the other end, it will be too difficult to betray NC which gave their confidence vote to Prachanda. Maoist Centre is badly squeezed between NC and UML's tug of war.

In between, one could hear meek voices like they will vote anyone that guarantees a full five year tenure. This could be a bargaining chip but is far more dangerous than siding with any of the two. Earlier, I predicted that Maoists' demise is inevitable. What they have is a choice to make between a slow and a quick death. Aligning with NC is a slow death and aligning with UML is a fast death. So far, the unfolding of political events in the country have vouchsafed my second prediction. And this is what the Maoists are seeking to avoid.

There is a dense fog in their call for a national consensus president. First, they say, “as with securing almost 100 percent confidence vote in the parliament, we need national consensus in selecting the president”. This is followed by another expression: “National consensus includes consensus of UML as well”. With the passage of time, this is evolved to mean “it is the duty of UML to strike national consensus”. Now, they are saying, there cannot be a national consensus by irritating the largest party in the parliament. By the time of voting, one can predict them saying, “Since UML did not heed to our call for a national consensus president, and we are forced to vote NC candidate.”

The behaviour and performance of past two presidents have turned ceremonial president into a kind of de facto executive president holding all power albeit at informal level, accountable to none. This has become the primary attraction to the post.  

The crux of the matter lies in UML completely capturing the state if their nominee is elected to the position of the president. When UML allowed Prachanda to become the prime minister on 25 December last year, rumour has it that there was a gentlemen’s agreement to share power after 2.5 years of the five year tenure. If this comes true, UML will hold on to all of the three powerful positions, namely, the president, the prime minister and the Speaker, giving a complete state capture.

Oli is still prescribing prime ministerial power to dissolve parliament at will and it has scared oppositional politics. Moreover, his aligning with regressive forces like RPP and RSP have also panicked political forces seeking to abide and preserve the ideals of the current constitution, namely, loktantra, federalism, secularism, and inclusive development. Madhav Nepal is now saying that “with UML president, the country is sure to head towards a disastrous end or barbadi”.

What I can predict with certainty is the gender of the next president. It will be a man, definitely, not a woman. 

UML, on the other hand, is saying that the elements are underway to disrupt the present coalition and revert to earlier coalition of five parties that jettisoned him out of power through court order. Oli has cautioned his supporters to get prepared for anything that could possibly happen in the country. Gagan Thapa from NC has even predicted a deadline for the fall of the present coalition (by 22 February). RSP’s abrupt exit from the power is one indicator, the rise of rajabadis in Jhapa is another indicator, mayhem created by transport entrepreneurs' strike in Kathmandu, the Election Commission abruptly fixing by-election date in Chitwan 2 – all point to political chaos and fluidity. In the list, one needs to add upcoming student union elections in the university.

In sum, elections to the next president will be fought on the planks of “regressive vs. status quoist” forces, “populist vs. progressives”, “open vs. close” “ultra-nationalists vs. pragmatists”, “South vs. North”, and "East vs. West". What I can predict with certainty is the gender of the next president. It will be a man, definitely, not a woman. 

Published on 17 February 2023

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