As the government fails to hold promised elections, speculation grows about how the president will act
THE country’s largely ceremonial president, Ram Baran Yadav, denies it. Yet diplomats and political insiders in Kathmandu accept that earlier this month Mr Yadav sounded out the army chief as well as the Indian ambassador about toppling the government of Nepal on November 22nd. The response he received obliged him to shelve his plans.
Even the president’s advisers admit that he is keen to dispose of the Maoist-led government of the prime minister, Baburam Bhattarai. The trouble, they say, is that under Nepal’s interim constitution he has no power to do so. Ever in thrall to conspiracy theories, the capital is more than usually abuzz with speculation about how the president will act.
Government and politics
In May an assembly elected in 2008 to write a new democratic constitution lapsed without completing its task. That plunged the country into renewed crisis. The interim constitution has no provision for holding fresh elections, nor for replacing the government. At the time Mr Bhattarai called for fresh elections to be held on November 22nd. But the opposition parties refused to co-operate over the electoral arrangements, and the president rejected two government ordinances on election rules. Politics is polarised. Mr Yadav believes that as the poll date passes the government will have no legitimacy, and so must go.
To critics of the Maoists, the party is undemocratic and threatening, responsible for sowing division in Nepali society. Mr Yadav is supposed to be neutral, but stands with these critics. Indeed supporters credit him with proving a more effective opposition than the weak and fractious Nepali Congress Party, to which he once belonged. The Maoists, who won the last election and have transformed themselves from a rural militia into a mainstream party, accuse critics of trying to thwart social changes that many voters demand.
As ever, personal ambition and a struggle for state resources play big parts in the crisis. But also at stake is the conduct of the next election, with potentially far-reaching consequences for the constitution that may eventually emerge.
The president’s preferred solution is said to be to install a “neutral” government, possibly under the leadership of a former chief justice, to oversee elections. Mr Yadav appears to believe that such a move would be popular; and that the Maoists, who are committed to fresh elections, would have little choice but to go along.
But would not dealing with the government offer better prospects of progress than trying to topple it? Little suggests that an administration installed by presidential coup would in fact be in a better position to broker a deal.
To intervene, as few doubt he wishes to, the president would have to assemble a coalition, including opposition parties whose leaders have hopes of becoming prime minister. He would also need the nod from the army and from India, Nepal’s powerful neighbour which still calls the shots. The logistical timetable for elections next year is already in doubt, if the monsoon season is to be dodged. And so the politics of conspiracy will have full rein.
A precedent exists for Nepal’s precarious situation. In 2002 a prime minister failed to hold elections, causing the then ceremonial monarch to sack him. The king enjoyed brief and shallow public support. Four years and four royally appointed governments later, the monarchy was defeated by a mass street movement, ushering in a ceremonial presidency. Do not wish the chaos of the past decade on Nepal again.