With the abolition of monarchy, the most dignified constitutional post of the head of the state is lying vacant. Interestingly, during the Constituent Assembly (CA) election campaign, it was the Maoists who first of all announced the name of their chairman Prachanda as the first presidential candidate. After the CA election, the Nepali Congress has suggested the name of Girija Prasad Koirala for this post. Now, it is reported that the CPN-UML has negotiated with the Maoists for its party nominee for the post of President. In short, the post appears to be the musical chair of politics.
Ironically, the session of the CA is being suspended indefinitely in absence of a working procedure and the legislature is suffering from a lack of work, and the people are aghast at the standoff for power-sharing. Weighing the seriousness of the situation, one wonders: if so much time is being wasted in the beginning for sorting out issues of power-sharing, how much time will be needed to resolve other major issues involved in constitution making.
Curiously, ignoring the several issues to be negotiated and settled immediately, the bargaining for presidential post is occupying the highest priority. The Maoists are rightly claiming Prime Ministership as their party has the highest number of seats in the elected House. With regard to the presidential post, two crucial roles have to be considered. First, the role of the post, in the present context of the peace process, will have to be streamlined. Secondly, its role in the future setup is to be discussed extensively and defined in order to be incorporated into the constitution. It appears that the present stalemate is mainly due to the confusion in the minds of the political leaders with regard to these two roles at present as well as in the future.
Most of the issues related to the peace process have been half-heartedly attended to so far. Hence, they demand immediate attention. The Maoists are going to head the government. They are really a party to the peace process. They have their own problems related to the decade-old armed conflict, such as, adjustment of their combatants living in the cantonments and the management of their arms. Naturally, their priorities are different to the priorities of non-Maoists, such as the victims of decade-long Maoist insurgency. Hence, to overcome the difficulties in delivering justice to the sufferers, independent commissions that have been envisaged in the Interim Constitution have to be constituted immediately.
To some, the formation of independent bodies is not enough. The role of an independent president has to be chalked out simultaneously as the peace process demands a definite role for the president. If a Maoist supporter is made president, all doors to lodge complaints against the government will be closed, making it difficult for the non-Maoists to get justice. He must, therefore, be the repository of trust for them. Thus, the role of the peace process president should be entirely different from the future role he may require through the constitution.
To some, a presidential candidate must possess unchallengeable democratic credentials for laying down the foundation for democratic governance. He must have the guts to advise the government properly if it fails to tread a democratic path. He should also have the capacity to engage all groups in the peace process if the peace process breaks down abruptly in the future by sorting out the differences among the major stakeholders.
A powerful presidency is needed even if it may appear to be establishing another power centre at the outset. Since it is an unusual time, there must be some kind of mechanism to censor and persuade the government if it fails to meet the requirements related to the peace process and does not do the needful to avoid any future conflict.
As a matter of fact, the powers and functions of president are the core issues that have to be decided in the Constituent Assembly. Ironically, these are getting entangled with the current standoff, as all political parties are preoccupied with their traditional notions of presidency. The CA will consider in detail the various models of presidency.
Looking at the models in our neighbourhood, we find communist China has a model with a president who happens to be secretary-general of the party and the chairman of the most powerful Central Military Commission. Traditionally, the retiring president is not bound to relinquish the post of chairmanship of the commission immediately. He can continue for a couple of years as has happened in the cases of Deng Xiaoping and his successor Jiang Zemin. In India, however, a president severs his relations with government organisations immediately after he retires. Since serious deliberation will commence on it in the CA, it should be considered differently now in view of the fragile peace process.
Prof Mishra is ex-election commissioner