February 25, 2020
Don’t make a mockery of the process of constitutional amendment.
The Nepal Communist Party has not had the best track record in the pieces of legislation it has attempted to push through. However, perhaps none were as ludicrous and frivolous as the ongoing attempt to amend the country’s constitution to ideally benefit one man. As far as the reports suggest, the plan to pass an amendment to allow National Assembly members to become prime minister seems to currently just benefit Bam Dev Gautam of the Nepal Communist Party. If this plan were to be followed through, it would make a mockery of the process of constitutional amendment. Here is a country where people who demand constitutional amendment for legitimate reasons are ignored–as has been the case with women and Madhesis–and where the ruling party has the audacity to attempt such absurd changes.
On Monday, ruling party leaders, however, were quick to refute that any such plan had been formed. Nonetheless, given the changing political dynamics in the party, and Gautam’s long-term desire to ‘serve the party and the nation’ by becoming prime minister, it is evident that a section of party leaders was bent on amending the supreme law of the land.
Ever since the unification of the CPN-Maoist Centre and the CPN-UML, the party has been subject to multiple rounds of bargaining and negotiation in order to keep the factions within satisfied. The party’s initial unification itself seemed to rely on a power-sharing agreement between party Chairman and Prime Minister KP Oli and the other Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal. The manoeuvrings and tug-of-war between the two have continued for almost two years now, shaping everything from the selection of the House speaker to the functioning of the federal cabinet. While Oli has long held enough power to have things his way, the recently concluded NCP Central Committee meeting seems to have finally tipped the balance towards Dahal’s camp.
Gautam’s siding with Dahal on negotiations, and his agreeing to accept a nomination to the National Assembly, seems contingent on assembly members being allowed to become prime minister. But to allow such a thing, the constitution itself needs to be amended. However, the constitutional amendment process should not be taken so lightly. The ruling party should think twice before making a mockery of the constitutional provisions for such vested interests, even as the people’s legitimate demands remain ignored.
But there are larger problems with the attempt, besides the obvious corruption to benefit Gautam. Nepal’s bicameral legislature was designed to balance power, thereby necessitating that the head of government only come from the Lower House. The legislative committees divided between the two branches themselves show the intent of divide. While the committees under the National Assembly cover areas such as good governance and legislative management, the House of Representatives committees are concerned with issues related to finance, public accounts, foreign affairs and other such areas of regular functioning. This itself alludes to the different roles the two branches were designed to play.
Moreover, the Upper House, as opposed to the Lower House, has its members indirectly elected. Electoral colleges from every province elect eight members each, and the president nominates an additional three members. National Assembly members, therefore, do not have to be adherent to any party. While the National Assembly can contribute technically able members to the cabinet to assist the prime minister, it makes sense that the head of government should be a person directly elected as a representative of a party that the people voted as their representative.
If the Nepal Communist Party were to change the rules, they would be severely compromising this check on power. While the actual chance of Gautam being elected prime minister now may be slim, this move opens up the possibility of a person not picked by the people becoming the head of the executive branch. This absurdity must stop. Such actions will lead the country down a slippery slope.