The Nepali Congress is desperate to get the presidency after the CPN-UML’s Dev Raj Ghimire was elected the speaker of parliament on Jan 19.
The NC leaders are of the view that the UML cannot have both speaker and president, as it goes against the idea of separation of powers. The next president, they say, should be from their party, or at least, someone proposed by them.
As part of a power-sharing deal, CPN (Maoist Center) has agreed to lead the coalition government for 2.5 years before ceding the prime minister’s office to UML. A midterm transition of power means the UML will eventually head the executive as well as the legislature. Under such a circumstance, the NC reckons they cannot allow the UML to have the presidency as well.
NC spokesperson Prakash Sharan Mahat has warned that the country could plunge into a constitutional crisis if all the vial positions are occupied by the UML. He has said it is time for Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal to prove that he stands in favor of separation of powers and the constitution.
Like the NC, the Maoist party too is concerned about giving all vital positions to the UML. Dahal is wary that UML leader KP Sharma Oli could become all-powerful and sideline him. The prime minister has said that he is working to bring the NC on board for presidential election, but has not explicitly stated that he would support the NC candidate.
When Dahal took a vote of confidence in the House of Representatives on Jan 10, the NC had backed him with the hope that their gesture would be reciprocated in the form of either speakership or presidency. With the UML winning the speaker’s seat, the NC hopes to get Prime Minister Dahal’s support on the day the parliament elects the new president of the country next month.
But so far there has been no confirmation from the prime minister, and some NC leaders, including Shekhar Koirala, are already regretting the decision to give the trust vote to Dahal.
NC leader Sher Bahadur Deuba and his supporters, however, are still
hopeful that they will succeed to get the presidency and drive a wedge between the Maoists and the UML.
Two probable presidential candidates from the NC are Ram Chandra Poudel and Krishna Prasad Sitaula. Poudel has been in constant touch with Prime Minister Dahal as well as Chairman of CPN (Unified Socialist) Madhav Kumar Nepal to seek their support in his presidential bid.
Sitaula, who closely worked with the Maoists during the peace and constitution drafting processes, is regarded as a suitable candidate whom Dahal would have no trouble supporting.
By securing the presidency, the NC wants to create a rift between the Maoists and the UML, two of the largest leftist parties in the country. Some Maoist leaders are of the view that the party could break alliance with the UML if NC comes up with a credible long-term vision of partnership between the NC and the Maoists.
A Maoist leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said first the NC should come up with a concrete view that it wants to be in a continued alliance with the Maoists for at least next five to ten years.
A section of the Maoist leaders want to enter a long-term alliance with the NC also because they want to settle the war-era cases with little damage to the party. With the NC as their ally, they reckon they could work out a way to investigate and prosecute only those cases related to serious human rights violations and secure clemency for others.
The Maoist leader said since NC is a democratic party trusted by the international community, its credentials could be instrumental in settling the war-era cases.
Haribol Gajurel, Dahal’s political advisor, has said the prime minister is working to forge a consensus among major parties in the presidential election. He added consensus building is imperative because some major tasks of the peace process still remain unsettled and the constitution is yet to be fully implemented. For the Maoist party, the NC’s role is important to conclude the transitional justice process as soon as possible.
There are geopolitical interests regarding the presidential election in Nepal. The positions of prime minister and president have emerged as parallel power centers, and foreign powers could serve their interests through the president if not the prime minister. So there is also a chance that the new president could be an individual recommended by the NC and not necessarily the party leader.