Kathmandu, November 22
A recent incident of President Bidhya Devi Bhandari ‘mediating’ a compromise between Nepal Communist Party (NCP) co-chairmen — Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal — has raised questions about the president’s neutrality as envisioned by the constitution. At the same time, Oli and Dahal have also been criticised for unnecessarily dragging the president into controversy breaching constitutional limits.
Just ahead of finalising Cabinet reshuffle on Wednesday, Oli and Dahal had met the president reportedly to seek her mediation and to become a witness to a power-sharing deal between the top two NCP leaders. Neither the president’s office nor any of the NCP leaders have refuted the reports.
Party insiders say NCP co-chairmen, amid a long-standing trust deficit, just wanted to ensure that the deal is concrete through the president’s endorsement.
However, this is not the first time the president has had active involvement in internal affairs of her former party.
Such involvements have been reported during the merger between former CPN-UML and CPN-MC two years ago, during her re-appointment as president, political appointments and internal appointments in the party.
“This trend is what prompts the question over the president’s neutrality,” said Prof P Kharel.
“The sad part is our leaders lack that subtlety to foresee implications of such activities.”
Constitution experts also said the country’s statute did not envision such a role for the president. They said even if the president, out of sympathy for her former party colleagues, helped them resolve a dispute, it should not have been made public as if she was happy to have an active role in the party.
According to constitution expert Bipin Adhikari, the constitutional head of the state is envisioned to have equal goodwill for all political parties as the incumbent is the country’s president, and not a party’s.
“Such involvement, that too publicly, in internal matters of the president’s former party gives rise to opinion that the president has partisan thinking,” Adhikari added.
“On the other hand, Oli and Dahal should have relied on the party’s internal machinery while sealing a deal and shouldn’t have sought the president’s sponsorship,” said Adhikari. “Nevertheless, it is up to the president to determine what kind of public image she wants to build.”
The widespread criticism, even from NCP leaders such as Bhim Rawal who’s taken to Twitter to question the president’s neutrality, also sparked a debate as to whether the president and top leaders were okay with breaching constitutional limits and were not sensitive about its long-term implications.
Another constitution expert Bhimarjun Acharya said since this was not an isolated event, but part of a series, Nepali leaders were ignorant about the sensitivity of the issue and its long-term implications. He said such activities of the president would only weaken institutions and the very concept of the constitution.
“On the other hand, the practice of party leaders seeking the president’s involvement in internal matters suggests they are provoking the president to breach her constitutional limits,” said Acharya, terming the move ‘a soft betrayal of the constitution’.
“This will eventually affect the longevity of the constitution,” he added.
A version of this article appears in print on November 23, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.