Friday, March 1, 2024

Will Paudel be an ideal President?


Nearly an octogenarian, Ram Chandra Paudel, a Nepali Congress (NC) veteran, has been elected to be the third president of Federal Democratic Republic (FDR) Nepal. On 9 March, in an Electoral College comprising of 884 federal and provincial MPs, out of 831 MPs, 566 MPs (or 68 percent) voted in favour of Paudel. In terms of weighted vote counts, he secured a total of 33,802 votes while his competitor secured 15,518 votes.   

Significance of his win

In fact, with eight-party alliance in his favour, his victory was a foregone conclusion. However, there is a special meaning and significance in his win because elections took place in an environment of extreme political rivalry and fluidity.

Given the state of political flux, many people are expecting election outcomes to be a political turning point. Some tell-tale signs are already underway: rajabadis are flogging a dead horse, Apex Court has registered war time case against Maoist Supremo, much divided Maoists are seeking to come together, there is a rise in political polarization, economy is in doldrums and the country is gradually turning into a playground for external forces.

Given the controversy surrounding earlier two presidents, people are not expecting too much from Paudel. He just needs to undo what his predecessors have done, i.e., give up partisan or personal interests for the sake of national interest. It would be a great service to the country and the people if he just manage to puts a stop on snubs and sleazes. He should avoid becoming a rubberstamp president (as exhibited by Madame Bidya Devi Bhandari); or charmless, slothful and sterile president (traits exhibited by Dr. Ram Baran Yadav). His election manifesto read “safeguarding Constitution and democratic values” while his opponent expected to “become people’s president”.   

If Nepal’s elections to the first president were a unique battle royale then the second one was an exercise in certainty. Paudel’s elections rest somewhere in between these two extremes - uncertainty and certainty.

In the first elections, the then Maoists barred Girija Prasad Koirala from becoming an uncontested president. Many NC senior leaders, including Paudel himself, shied away from contesting elections with a legendary republican Ram Raja Prasad Singh as it was thought to be a losing battle. However, Dr. Yadav turned out to a lucky winner in the second round. It is an irony in history that Paudel is backed by the same brand of Maoists to become the president. Unlike in the past, this time, there were several aspirants within NC seeking to be president.

It would be a great service to the country and the people if he just manage to puts a stop on snubs and sleazes.

Down to earth

Paudel is a down-to-earth politician. He speaks simple, flat Nepali that even a commoner, with no schooling, will find easy in understanding. Probably, Mukunda Neupane from CPN (US) or Chitra Bahadur KC from RJM may be two other politicians speaking close to Paudel.  

I first happened to see him in person at Basantapur mass demonstration programme, organized by civil society members for the restoration of democracy in the aftermath of King Gyanendra’s takeover in 2005. I found myself sitting next to him. It was unbelievable to see a former speaker sitting on the street pavement, mingling with the crowd of commoners. To some extent his popularity can also be judged from Nepali comedians performing mimicry - seeking to copy his unique style of speaking from deep lungs. 

During early stage of Maoist movement, he was a lone figure entering into an intellectual debate with Dr. Babu Ram Bhattarai, the then Maoist ideologue, operating underground. These were published in the Kantipur daily.

Dukha payeko

When Paudel got nominated, NC President Sher Bahadur Deuba had nothing to fuss about. He gave two reasons for his nomination - seniority and dukha payeko (victimized). In a hierarchical Nepali society, seniority criteria alone would have silenced other NC candidates. Dukha payeko requires a bit of elaboration here. Paudel’s dukha included facing 17 consecutive defeats, in a row, in the parliamentary elections for PM in 2011. The incident is taken as a joke on his political career.

His other dukha included intermittent imprisonments. He has frequented prison more than frequenting the parliament. He has been in and out of parliament for six terms while it is 12 times in prison – giving a total of 15 years in prison.

His other dukha included, not beating communists, but competing with his own fellow congressi, Govinda Raj Joshi. Their rivalry is taken at a classic level. With corruption charges brought by the CIAA, Mr. Joshi has more things to keep occupied. Their rivalry is reported to have simmer down a lot.

The criteria of seniority and dukha payeko are meant to send someone on retirement or on political hibernation. If this happens with Paudel that could be a disaster in making. Will he become a model president? Borrowing his own words, will he demonstrate to us the difference between the king and the president? 

Published on 9 March 2023