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Current Constitutional Crisis in Nepal

Issue 19, May 10, 2009

Siddhi B. Ranjitkar

The resignation tendered by the Prime Minster on May 4, 2009 protesting the direct unconstitutional intervention of the President in the firing of the Chief of Army Staff (CoAS) has created a political deadlock in Nepal. This is not the first time in the history of Nepal such a political crisis has occurred. Heads of the political adventurers have rolled off in the past, too when they ventured to overstep the constitution and the people’s rights. This time, too, the political crisis might end only after the head of the political villain would roll off, as he has overstepped the Constitution.

On Friday, May 8, 2009, speaking to the anchor of the morning program called ‘Antar Sambad’ of the state-run Radio Nepal, Chairman of Nepal Workers’ and Peasants’ Party (NWPP) Narayan Man Bijukchhe said that the current political deadlock would end only after the resignation of the President and then the election for a new president. He also has said that this situation has created due to the double standard of the leaders of the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist and Leninist (CPN-UML).

CPN-UML leaders betrayed the coalition government. Before leaving Kathmandu for the China visit, Chairman of CPN-UML Jhalanath Khanal agreed to take actions against CoAS Rukmangad Katuwal for defying the government’s order in three accounts. However, he pulled ministers out of the coalition government placing the United Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-Maoist) in the minority government after the government made decisions on firing Rukmangad Katuwal and appoint Second-in Command Kul Bahadur Khadga to the position of an Acting CoAS. In addition, the leaders of the CPN-UML along with the leaders of the Nepali Congress (NC) requested the President for overruling the government’s decision on firing the CoAS.

Then, on May 04, 2009, Prime Minister Prachanda went to the people addressing a nation live on the TVs and announced his resignation protesting the President’s unconstitutional act of writing a letter to the CoAS ordering him to stay on in the job and sending a copy of it to the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister has said in his address to the nation that the Interim Constitution of Nepal of 2007 has no provision for the President to do anything without the recommendation of the government. So, the President’s action violates the Interim Constitution.

The UCPN-Maoist has dubbed the President’s direct order to the CoAS to stay on in the job as a constitutional coup. The leaders of the UCPN-Maoist have said that the President has not quoted any Clause of the Interim Constitution to write a letter to the CoAS, as the Interim Constitution does not permit the President to do anything independently. So, his writing a letter to the CoAS is an edict and an attempt to be an authoritarian ruler.

The leaders of the UCPN-Maoist blame the President for distributing the file videotape of Prachanda instructing the trainees of the People’s Liberation Army in early January 2008 in order to justify the presidential coup. According to the UCPN-Maoist leaders, the Nepal Army has the videotape for quite some time. However, the army took it to the President only after the Prime Minister’s resignation to demonstrate the Maoists are in fact for grabbing the state power. The President has also permitted the CoAS to distribute it to the political leaders, Nepalese TVs and even to the diplomatic missions in Kathmandu dubbing it in English.

Political analysts say that every political party is for grabbing the power. So, it is not a surprise that political parties attempt to take over the power. However, the most unfortunate thing is that the so-called parliamentary parties such as NC and CPN-UML and advocates of democracy have successfully removed the democratically elected government led by the UCPN-Maoist standing on the shoulder of the President and forcing him to do the most unconstitutional thing, and have been on the way to grabbing the power.

Political analysts say that the NC and CPN-UML leaders have done the most unconstitutional thing. However, the NC leaders claimed that they have saved the country from falling in the hands of Maoists. They also claimed that they have saved the country from the political disaster. They did not say how the Maoists would take over the country firing the CoAS and what would be the political disaster from it. Political analysts think that the NC and CPN-UML leaders have pushed the country to the political deadlock, as they will not be able to form a new government democratically without the cooperation of the UCPN-Maoist.

On May 7, 2009, the parliamentary party meeting of NC has appreciated the President’s step to overrule the government’s decision on firing the CoAS stating the government has decided to fire the CoAS even all political parties except for the UCPN-Maoist have opposed this sort of decision according to the ‘Gorkhapatra’ of May 8, 2009. The meeting also has stated that the President has saved the constitutional and political disaster overturning the decision of the government that has gone against the Constitution, Comprehensive Peace Agreement and peace process.

On May 8, 2009, American Ambassador to Nepal Nancy Powell delivered the letter written by Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, Richard Boucher to former Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala; Mr. Boucher in the letter has stated that in the current political situation, Nepal has no alternative to the consensus politics, and advised Koirala to go to the court if any constitutional problem arises writes the ‘Gorkhapatra’ of May 9, 2009 quoting Dr. Suresh Chalise, Foreign Affairs Adviser to Koirala.

The NC and CPN-UML leaders have been caught in the snare they have set up. Political analysts say that the NC and CPN-UML leaders would have been better off if they have gone to the Supreme Court of Nepal rather than going to the President for rectifying the Prime Minister’s decision on firing the CoAS if they have been really for the rule of law. Unfortunately, they have taken the wrong path of going to the President and setting him in the trap, too by forcing him to overstep the constitution and violate the rule of law.

The CPN-UML central committee meting has come to the conclusion that the President’s decision on reinstating the CoAS is a wrong step taken with good intention while the Prime Minister’s decision on firing the CoAS is a wrong decision taken unilaterally writes the ‘Gorkhapatra’ of May 9, 2009. Some political analysts say that the CPN-UML leaders have shown their character of the political prostitution.

The current political deadlock will not be resolved without rolling off the head of the President according to some political leaders such as Chairman of NWPP Narayan Man Bijukchhe. The UCPN-Maoist leaders have been determined to stop any parliamentary business until the President takes back his letter to the CoAS and apologizes to the public for his unconstitutional step. This means the President has to resign from the position under the moral obligation.

In the past, too, the head of Rana rolled off in 1951 because of their oppressive rule for 104 years; then, the head of ‘Panchayat’ rolled off in 1990 after the coup in 1960; then the head of the monarchy rolled off in 2006 after the unconstitutional step in 2005. This time, the head of President will be rolled off soon if not within a few days according to the political analysts because of his unconstitutional act of saving the job of the CoAS.

Apparently, after the resignation of the Prime Minister, the NC and CPN-UML leaders have been engaged in the simple arithmetic of having a majority in the parliament to form a government without resolving the constitutional crisis created by the unconstitutional step of the President. They will not be able to form a new government even if they could they would not be able to function it without the cooperation of the UCPN-Maoist members, as the UCPN-Maoist holds the total numbers of seats more than the combined total numbers of seats of the NC and CPN-UML in the parliament.

The UCPN-Maoist leaders have declared that they will continue to struggle against the unconstitutional step of the President at the parliament and on the streets. They have been obstructing the parliamentary sessions and rallying on the streets against the President’s unconstitutional step. So, the NC and CPN-UML leaders would not be able to form a government even if they garner a simple majority in the parliament. In addition, such a majority government would not be able to function properly without the cooperation of the UCPN-Maoist.

The NC leaders know the political reality of the CPN-UML will not be able to form a government without the cooperation of the UCPN-Maoist. However, the NC leaders have been acting as if they are sincerely assisting the CPN-UML leaders in forming a government and even the NC president have asked Prachanda to cooperate with the CPN-UML leaders on forming a new government.

Some leaders such as Bijaya Kumar Gacchadar of Madheshi Peoples’ Right Forum (MPRF) erroneously believe that they play a decisive role in forming a new government. However, the MPRF leaders will not be able to play a destructive role the Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) had played during the period of the hung parliament in the mid 1990s. At that time, the contenders for the political power were two political parties such as NC and CPN-UML. Both of them did not have the majority in the parliament. So, they had to rely on the third party or form a grand coalition of the NC and the CPN-UML. This time, political scenario is quite different from that of the mid 1990s, as the three major political parties such as UCPN-Maoist, NC and CPN-UML have emerged in the parliament. So, the combination of various political parties for forming a new government is more this time than in the mid 1990s.

The current constitutional crisis is the product of the unwise decision of the CPN-UML leaders going with the NC for pushing the President to take an unconstitutional step. This unwise decision has ultimately been the cause of the split of the leaders into two factions: one faction wants to go along with the NC to fight for the unconstitutional step of the President and another with the UCPN-Maoist for resolving the constitutional crisis fighting against the unconstitutional step of the President. It remains to be seen the result of such political development in the CPN-UML party.

President Ram Baran Yadav has already committed one grave constitutional mistake now he is set to commit another mistake appointing a Prime Minister bypassing the parliament. The President called Speaker of Parliament Subash Chandra Nemwang over to the official residence of the President for discussing the possibility of appointing a Prime Minister without going through the parliamentary process on May 07, 2009. Obviously, the Speaker has told the President that the Interim Constitution has no other provision for appointing a Prime Minister than taking the matter to the parliament.

Political analysts are sure that the head of the first President of Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal needs to be rolled off for resolving the constitutional crisis, as he has acted as the puppet of the NC and CPN-UML leaders. The President clearly knows that his action is unconstitutional. However, he did it on the request of the NC and CPN-UML leaders without considering its political consequences. He has no other alternative but to rectify his action as demanded by the civil society leaders and the UCPN-Maoist leaders to end the constitutional crisis and continue the rule of law rather than the rule of discretion.

May 9, 2009.

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