Nepali Times
State Of The State
Yadav vs Dahal


A week is a long time in politics, but this week seems to be extending into eternity. Anomalies abound: the Nepal Army has two chiefs, the president is behaving like a chief executive and the resignation of the prime minister has made uncertainty once more the only certainty of Nepali politics.

The formation of a new government isn't going to be easy. The arithmetic of the CA is such that even if a government were to be formed without the Maoists, it would last only as long as Pushpa Kamal Dahal wishes. The future of the peace process becomes even more precarious as Maoist combatants in temporary camps begin to lose hope, and more crucially, patience. The framing of a new constitution and the very fate of this nascent republic hang in balance as political parties bicker over office.

It may not have been by design, but Pushpa Kamal Dahal demonstrated that were it not for the decade-long armed insurgency, parliamentary democracy in Nepal would still be a free market for horse-trading. The risk of totalitarianism can be frightening, but nothing scares people in the streets as much as the incompetence and dishonesty of their leaders.

Meanwhile, President Ram Baran Yadav has opened a different can of worms by an inventive interpretation of his role and responsibilities. Nepal has been a military state since its inception. From Bhimsen Thapa to Padma Shamsher, every ruler that lost his control over the army had to make way for more ambitious soldiers. In the post-1950 decades of political volatility, monarchs used the threat, and sometimes direct application (as in December 1960 and February 2005) of military force to make prime ministers fall in line or dismiss them arbitrarily.

No one knows about the primacy of the army in Nepal better than the former guerilla leader Dahal. But for all his faults and follies (and they are legion in a man responsible for the death, disappearance, and displacement of thousands of innocent Nepalis) Dahal is correct in his assessment that dual centre of power in a country can lead to even worse disasters. The office of the president needs to accept that the parliamentary system of governance is the essence of the interim constitution.

The 'authority' Yadav used to restore the CoAS against the decision of the government violates one of the fundamental principles of parliamentary democracy that holds the executive responsible to the legislature. The prime minister is the leader of parliament and is subjected to its supremacy. Barring impeachment, the president is exempt from parliamentary oversight and enjoys a fixed term under the assumption that every act of the government will be done in his name and on his behalf. However, should a difference of opinion arise between the president and the prime minister, the latter must prevail to prevent the democratic structure from collapsing. It's not about Yadav versus Dahal, the issue is whether democracy can function if the head of state refuses to respect the boundary of his autonomy.

Yadav's action has been compared with the authoritarian decisions of Gyanendra on 4 October, 2002. The comparison is unfair to the ousted king: the monarchy had tradition behind it, Nepal's presidency doesn't. There are three extraordinary situations when a head of state may risk his position and reputation to take executive action-war, rebellion or economic collapse. Gyanendra faced all three. Yadav had none that challenged the very existence of state creating the condition for the application of the doctrine of necessity.

Long-term ramifications apart, the army row can hinder the formation and functioning of the government. An exit strategy needs to be devised by the whiz kids of Shital Niwas to end the deadlock that their counsel has created.
It's not about separation of powers or checks and balances. The constitution has enough institutions for these functions. The duty of the president is to activate another institution when one becomes dysfunctional. The dismissed CoAS should be asked to go to the court to uphold the doctrine of civilian supremacy. The president doesn't need to apologise to the nation, but he must take corrective action.


No one won

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)