Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Vice-president candidacy controversy: Different sex and/or community?

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Having completed elections to the president, Nepali people were expecting that the country will now take its course. We thought that there will be no more breathtaking high voltage political drama. However, this turned out to be absolutely wrong.

There is now another snag on the way: Should the Vice-president (VP) candidate come from different sex other than male or from different community other than khas-arya? Or, are we looking for a female (or other sex) VP from non-khas-arya community?

Election Commission's stand

The Election Commission, the primary agency responsible for holding elections, says and has also issued directives to the election officer not to entertain any nominations for the candidates who are males or from khas-arya community. As per its directives, the candidate must be a female or from other sex (meaning third gender) and from non-khas/arya community (meaning, she should, categorically,  be drawn from either of the five groups, namely, Dalit, Adivasi, Janajati, Madhesi, Tharu or Muslim).

Eight party alliance members' stand

However, there is a standoff between the Commission and the political parties. At least, the alliance of eight parties differ over the interpretation of constitutional provisions related to the candidacy for the Vice-President. Some members of the eight party alliance view that the constitutional provision clearly reads “the Vice-president under this Constitution shall be so made as to have representation of different sex or community” (Article 70), the candidate need not necessarily be a female or other sex (third gender), he or she can be from other community as well.

Janata Samajwadi Party (JSP), a member of the eight party alliance has filed candidacy of Ramsahay Prasad Yadav as the Vice-President under power sharing agreement. Definitely, Yadav is from a Madhesi community, therefore, eligible for candidacy. The party has threatened to take legal and political actions if the Commission fails to entertain his nomination.

The spoilers

If there is a standoff between the Commission and the JSP in particular, the debate is further compounded by following factors: (a) Nagarik Unmukti Party tried to nominate its president Ranjita Shrestha as its candidate for the post. However, she is ineligible under age criteria, (b) Janamat Party has nominated Mamata Jha, (c) At least, going by Dev Gurung’s statement, CPN (Maoist Centre) is opting for female candidacy under the principle of proportional inclusion, (d) Nepali Congress leader Purna Bahadur Khadka opines that no such agreement has been reached among eight party alliance to give VP position to JSP, and (e) Dr. Babu Ram Bhattarai tweeted that “decision should be held as per the letter and spirit of the constitution rather than personal or partisan interests”.

The personal and partisan interests he could be hinting at included: MP Ramsahay Prasad Yadav is to be promoted to the VP thereby vacating his Bara-2 constituency so that JSP president Upendra Yadav can contest by-elections and make his political comeback. He lost the last elections, and that too badly, with CK Raut from Janamat Party. Upendra Yadav is taken as Bijaya Gachhadar equivalent, who is renowned as lok sewa pass candidate for holding ministerial portfolios. That is a roundabout way of saying “having opportunistic character”. JSP has also fielded Pramila Yadav as the VP candidate just to be in the safe side.  

One can add to the debate the views held by former VP Paramananda Jha whose tenure was heavily dragged into controversy due to his oath taking in Hindi language. In a recent interview he has opined the position of VP to be "worthless".

The eight party alliance members, JSP in particular, hold views that the wording “or” provides an option to have the VP “either from different sex or from different community”.

Crux of the matter

I suppose the crux of the matter rests with different interpretations of the wording “or” that appears in between “sex” and “community” in Article 70 of the Constitution: “Election to the President and the Vice-president under this Constitution shall be so made as to have representation of different sex or community”. The views of the Election Commission is that having elected a khas-arya male president, Ram Chandra Paudel, the VP should come from non-male and non-khas arya community.

The eight party alliance members, JSP in particular, hold views that the wording “or” provides an option to have the VP “either from different sex or from different community”. Clearly, both parties are placing differing weight on the letter and the spirit of the Constitution. The views of the Commission is tilted towards the spirit of the Constitution, that is, to have a proportionally inclusive society. The views held by some members of eight party alliance is more on “letters” than on “spirits”. Their understanding of social inclusion principle is that it need not necessarily confine to “gender”, this can also mean “community inclusion”.

In the past we had a female president from khas-arya (Bidya Devi Bhandari) community paired by a male vice-president from adivasi janjati community (Nanda Kishore Pun). There were no problems in interpreting the constitutional provision. However, JSP refutes the precedence and says the Commission is misinterpreting the constitution provision to discriminate against their candidate Ramsahay Prasad Yadav from Madhesi community. There is even a simmering politicization of the issue in terms of possible ploy to exclude “Yadavs” from “Madhesi” community. There is no shortage of conspiracy theories in Nepali politics.

Postscript

The deadline for filing nomination was on Saturday, 11 March, at 2.00pm. By noon, UML announced Asta Laxmi Shakya as their candidate. They also demanded fulfilment of the constitutional provisions, to have alternate positions of Chief and Deputy, occupied by male or female candidates as practiced from local to central level political positions. The eight-party alliance failed to reach a consensus. They have decided to file the names of three candidates – a male and female candidate from JSP and a female candidate from Janamat Party. This is to minimize risks associated with the Commission rejecting the filing of a male candidate. They expect to reach consensus by Sunday. Sounds like there is much more controversy over electing someone into a worthless position.

Published on 12 March 2023   

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