The Constitution of Nepal, 2015 has not given executive powers to the President. In Article 66 (2) of the Constitution, it is said that any work done by the President shall be done with the recommendation and consent of the Council of Ministers. There is a constitutional provision that such recommendation and consent must be submitted through the Prime Minister.
Khim Lal Devkota, a member of the Constituent Assembly at that time, says that in the first session of the Parliament, there had been enough discussion about the power of the President. “When the interim Constitution was made in 2007 after the end of the monarchy, the leaders were to the conclusion that there should not be two power centres.” Devkota says, “All were unanimous that executive powers should be given only to the Prime Minister.”
At that time, the parliamentarians had also discussed that the President should be given some authority, like in India. “But the leaders said that they would only keep the President as a symbol of unity,” Devkota adds. So, the position of Nepal’s Head of State was made ceremonial.
However, before the election of the third Head of State of Nepal this year, there were a lot of tussles between the parties about who should be made the President. Like the selection of the executive Prime Minister, the parties fought in the Presidential election.
Pushpa Kamal Dahal (known as Prachanda), the Chairman of the Communist Party of Nepal (CPN) Maoist Centre, who is also the current Prime Minister, broke the alliance with the Communist Party of Nepal (CPN) Unified Marxist–Leninist (UML), for electing a ‘favourable’ President. When he got a hint that KP Sharma Oli is making a candidate for someone who would not be ‘comfortable’ with his future, Dahal pulled CPN-UML out of the alliance and supported the candidate of the Opposition party, Nepali Congress (NC).
CPN-UML is the same party which supported Dahal for Prime Minister when NC president Sher Bahadur Deuba refused to give him the position and claimed that he should get the leadership for the first 2.5 years.
Before the November 10 poll, the Maoist centre, led by Dahal had made an agreement with the Nepali Congress-led coalition that he should be supported for the post of Prime Minister. But, after the poll results, the NC President refused. Dahal reached the residence of KP Oli, Chairman of the Opposition party CPN-UML and became the Prime Minister with Oli’s support.
In Balkot (Oli’s residence), Prime Minister Dahal had made an agreement to take the Prime Minister post and give the Speaker and the President’s posts to the Oli-led CPN-UML. Dahal could not hold on to the agreement until the Presidential elections which were held two months later. However, NC also supported Dahal while taking a vote of confidence in Parliament on January 10. According to the leaders of NC, they had given the vote of confidence to Dahal targeting the presidential elections, which later became fruitful.
After getting a vote of confidence, Prachanda said that a ‘national consensus’ should be sought for the presidential election. According to a source close to PM Dahal, at that time, he had also started discussions with the main Opposition Nepali Congress as UML president Oli was trying to make his faith character candidates for President. Though Dahal had also proposed some names within the CPN-UML, Oli had refused all the names, according to the sources.
At first, the Congress which did not leave the Prime Minister, after 15 days gave a vote of confidence to Prachanda in the Parliament and gave a message that it was ready to cooperate with Prachanda at any time, so it was easy for Prachanda to proceed the discussion with the Congress.
After reaching the conclusion that Oli might create trouble any time after making President to his trusted one, Prachanda supported the Opposition coalition’s candidate for the Presidential elections.
After receiving Prachanda’s support, the senior leader of the Opposition party, Ram Chandra Poudel, became the President by defeating CPN-UML candidate Subas Chandra Nembang. However, this development has raised a question – why the Prime Minister of Nepal was ready to break the alliance with CPN-UML, which supported him in a difficult situation, for a ceremonial position candidate?
This has given the impression that the Presidency of Nepal has become a strong power centre rather than a ceremonial one.
According to Shiva Gaunle, the former chairman of the Federation of Nepali Journalists, the President became a strong power centre when the previous President worked for the interests of parties he/she was affiliated with. “There are many examples of using the Constitution and the law in the interest of their former party,” says Gaunle. “So, the parties now are taking the President’s position as one of the power centres.” Even looking at the activities of the two former presidents of Nepal, we can agree with Gaunle’s argument.
The Maoists, who were leading the government in 2009, wanted to remove the then Army Chief Rukmangad Katwal. The Council of Ministers meeting decided to dismiss General Katwal on April 23, 2009, and give Kul Bahadur Khadka the responsibility of acting Commander-in-Chief. However, the then President Rambaran Yadav wrote a direct letter to Chief of Army Staff General Katwal on the same night and ordered him to stick to his position and disobey the Prime Minister’s order. He challenged the decision of the elected executive exceeding the constitutional limit. Congress and UML leaders stood together in this step. Prachanda had to leave the government within nine months after this incident. This incident is popularly known as the ‘Katwal Kanda’ in Nepal.
Yadav was also accused of helping leader Shushil Koirala during the Congress general convention. During the convention, he invited the representatives from Madhesh to Shitalniwas (official residence of Nepal’s President) and held a meeting.
The second Head of State, Bidya Devi Bhandari, also could not stay away from controversies. The President endorsed the decision to dissolve the Parliament of the then PM KP Oli when there was an internal dispute in the Nepal Communist Party (NCP), which was made up of the Maoist Centre and the CPN-UML. Oli had dissolved the House of Representatives on the ground that it could not work due to party disputes.
At that time, President Bhandari ignored the Constitutional provisions and announced the election by dissolving the House of Representatives. Later, the Supreme Court of Nepal overturned the Prime Minister’s decision of dissolving the parliament, stating that it was unconstitutional. On May 21, 2021, President Bhandari again approved the recommendation to dissolve the parliament for the second time. In both times, there were allegations of supporting the unconstitutional steps of the then PM Oli.
The second time, she had approved the recommendation to dissolve the House of Representatives at 2 am in the morning. However, for the second time also on July 12, 2021, the Supreme Court annulled the dissolution of the House of Representatives. President Bhandari was also accused of approving whatever ordinance the Oli-led government brought. There was a lot of controversy when an ordinance related to the Constitutional Council was approved by President Bhandari.
President Bhandari, who immediately issued an ordinance when her former party chairman KP Sharma Oli was the Prime Minister, looked different when Nepali Congress Chairman Sher Bahadur Deuba was the Prime Minister. She sent back the Citizenship Bill two times. By doing this, she set a false impression that the ceremonial President may not accept the decision of the legislature and the government.
Janata Samajwadi Party MP Pradeep Yadav said, on February 15, 2022, in the House of Representatives meeting that there should be a discussion about the President’s veto power in the context of the fact that the President had not verified the bills passed by the Parliament twice.
Senior Congress leader Paudel took over the duties of the President on Tuesday, a time when there are allegations that the President has exercised powers beyond the constitutional scope. The near future will show whether he works without controversy during his term or repeat the same mistakes as previous heads of state.
In this context, the General Secretary of Nepali Congress, Gagan Thapa has suggested the newly elected President Paudel to be the common President of all.
The author is a journalist. Views expressed are personal.
This opinion was published by CNN News18 on MARCH 21, 2023, 18:39 IST