The third government in Kathmandu after the promulgation of the constitution 22 months ago, continues to harp, like its two predecessors, that its main responsibility is to implement the statute. This repeated assertion and claim by key political actors gives out the message that Nepal continues to be in a state of transition. Why should not the transition be declared over once the constitution has been delivered?
It seems the leaders, especially those in office, can undermine constitutional provisions and dilute the system of accountability during the transition. All the three cabinets formed under the new constitution — the first one led by K.P. Oli of the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist followed by Pushpa Kamal Dahal of the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist Centre and the current one of Sher Bahadur Deuba of the Nepali Congress — came into existence by violating the clearly stated provision of the constitution that the size of the cabinet “shall not exceed 25”. The eight-week-old coalition government of Deuba already has 28 members, and is likely to expand further as he needs to appease parties, big and small, for his survival in a hung parliament. No political party is likely to raise objections to Deuba’s outreach since almost all of them have been beneficiaries of this violation.
Mahendra Yadav, a Congress parliamentarian, refused to leave the prime minister’s residence unless he was given a berth in the cabinet. His action almost delayed the scheduled swearing in at the President’s House on Wednesday. Ultimately, Prime Minister Deuba gave in. Yadav rushed straight to the President’s office for the oath ceremony in “slippers” since he feared that going home to get dressed in formal wear may deprive him of the opportunity. Having to yield to such tantrums at the cost of the prime minister’s prerogative is not uncommon in Nepal: The PM will need to acquiesce to such demands for survival. Prime Minister Deuba, who included nine members in this round of cabinet expansion which took place 49 days after he assumed office, has conceded six seats to three different factions within the Nepali Congress, on the recommendation of the leaders of the respective factions.
However, more severe challenges may be in the offing. The Maoist outfit, the second largest party in the coalition government, is in a poor shape. Last week, Dahal said his party will demand — in parliament and from the streets — a directly elected executive president as a measure to guarantee political stability in the country. In other words, Dahal has challenged the constitution by opposing the existing arrangement of a “ceremonial president”. No one knows whether Dahal’s demand was a political ploy or if the Maoists intend to step up their tirade against the constitution.
Dahal, clearly, is trying to send a message across to the ruling coalition as well as his own faction-ridden party. In a recent extended party meeting, he said Nepal’s transformation to a “secular, federal republic was the outcome of the revolution under my leadership and it is irreversible no matter whether our party remains, or we dissolve it”. He probably wanted his own party leaders to shut up and follow him.
Dahal is not alone in demanding changes to the constitution. Last week, Kathmandu saw a huge procession led by former minister, Prakash Chandra Lohani, which was attended by many groups dissatisfied with the current constitution and the prevailing chaos. They demanded that Nepal revert to being a Hindu state under constitutional monarchy, which alone can provide “the much needed political unity and stability to the country”. Dahal’s opposition to a basic feature of the constitution, which his party’s had endorsed two years ago, has accorded legitimacy to all those who reject the constitution.
The pro-monarchy procession took place amidst a flood of messages on social media that wished the former king, Gyanendra Shah, who underwent angioplasty in local Norvic Hospital, a speedy recovery. The messages were also full of derogatory remarks and criticism about politicians, including Dahal, who have opted for expensive medical treatment abroad at state expense.
In the meantime, the government has formed a commission for delimitation of parliamentary constituencies. The move is aimed at reducing the number of constituencies to 165 from the current 601 in a month’s time. This is certain to trigger large discontent at a time when the proposed provincial boundary and capital issues remain unsettled. Both parliament and provincial legislatures are to be elected by January 21. With so much confusion around, political groups riven by factionalism and key constitutional provisions being challenged by powerful players, there is a need for conciliatory efforts which are nowhere to be seen. firstname.lastname@example.org