End of consensus

Several presidential and vice presidential candidates have been in the fray in the Constituent Assembly for Saturday’s election, including three separate sets of people by the three biggest parties, after the search for a consensus candidate for President collapsed, not only among the three but even between the CPN-Maoist and either the Nepali Congress or the CPN-UML. The political parties themselves had, through the Fifth Amendment to the Interim Constitution (IC), had recently removed the provision of political consensus by incorporating the simple-majority requirement for the election and removal of the Prime Minister, as well as for the election of the other top executive and legislative posts. The formal abandonment of the politics of consensus underlies a desire to make or break government during the rest of the transitional period. With the adoption of this new system, the efforts at finding a common candidate smacked of a certain degree of hypocrisy. Indeed, it would have been ideal if the Big Three had agreed to search for a common candidate agreeable to all of them.

But it appears too late to achieve that desirable objective, as all three parties have announced

their candidates; though, as there is still time for withdrawal of candidacies, optimists may not have abandoned all hopes. Three are three presidential candidates - the CPN-Maoist’s Ram Raja Prasad Singh, backed by the Madhesi parties; the NC’s Dr Ram Baran Yadav; and the CPN-UML’s Ramprit Paswan. As for Vice President, there are four — two of the CPN-Maoist and the UML — both women and Janajatis — a separate candidate of the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (MJF), Parmananda Jha, a former SC judge; and a Dalit leader for the NC. Given the combined numbers of the CPN-Maoist and the Madhesi parties in the CA, it is highly likely that Singh will emerge as victorious in the first round.

However, things are far from clear as yet who will pass the vice-presidential ordeal, because this race may go on to the second round where the two largest vote-getters will finally compete. Whatever the eventual results, the disagreement has put at great risk the possibility of political collaboration of the Maoists with either the NC or the UML. The UML has already ruled out, at least for now, any possibility of cooperation with the Maoists in government formation. The Maoists, true to their earlier stance, rejected both Prime Minister Girija Prasad

Koirala and CPN-UML’s Madhav Kumar Nepal. However, this may well give the Maoists an opportunity to portray their final decision as an example of their ‘politics of conscience’, and even convey the impression that they are the real champions of the uplift of the Madhesi population. Here, the NC and the UML may find themselves at some disadvantage, as their present candidates were not their first candidates; they were fielded largely to make their presence felt after it became clear their original candidates stood little chance of victory. In the hung parliament, the disagreement over the post of ceremonial president has made the contours of the next government hazier still.