Nepal President Ram Baran Yadav and Prime Minister (PM) Baburam Bhattarai are locked in a tense stand-off in Nepal, with matters threatening to come to a head over the approval of the full budget and the political roadmap.
Highly placed sources have told The Hindu that Dr. Yadav has contemplated “drastic” action, including dismissing Dr. Bhattarai and appointing a new PM for Nepal after November 22, the date on which the government had originally proposed to hold fresh Constituent Assembly (CA) polls.
However, the Nepal Army (NA) is understood to have conveyed its view that the “political process” should be allowed to take its own course. Officially, the President’s advisors reject any possibility of a “presidential coup”, and say he is merely trying to “put pressure” on parties to come to an agreement.
According to close aides, Dr. Yadav has said that the government will cease to have any legitimacy after its failure to hold polls on the declared date. He is learnt to feel strongly that Dr. Bhattarai plunged the country into a crisis by declaring elections, “without making appropriate arrangements”. And the President feels he has a responsibility to break “the constitutional and political deadlock”.
Dr. Yadav has refused to endorse any ordinances forwarded by the government, and only allowed a one-third budget on the grounds that there was no political consensus for a full budget. A close presidential advisor said, “The PM wants the President to use his constitutional power to remove obstacles under Article 158, but he has never shown us how this will be approved by the Parliament given there is no legislature. This is the root of the problem.” The one-third budget runs out in mid-November.
In turn, sources close to Dr. Bhattarai argue that the government saved the country from a political vacuum by declaring elections on May 27, when the CA’s term ended without a Constitution. They see the President, a former Nepali Congress (NC) leader, as “acting in concert” with the opposition, which has made the PM’s resignation a precondition for consensus. Nepal PMO sources point out that the government is legitimate by virtue of being elected on the floor of the House and there is no way to constitutionally dismiss or replace the Prime Minister.
Dr. Bhattarai’s aides allege Dr. Yadav is over-stepping his constitutional brief. They cite his refusal to promulgate ordinances forwarded by the government and endorse a full budget; his regular meetings with political leaders; and public interventions on political issues, as proof. “It is his job to go by the recommendations of the council of ministers but he behaves like a free bird. Is this constitutional?” asks an exasperated Maoist leader.
Nepal PMO sources said that if the opposition parties continue with their “obstructionist tactics”, they would send the full budget to the President. Asked what would happen if the President rejected it, he replied, “We will send it again.” During the weekend, the President told a Minister, who spoke to The Hindu, that “if the government tried to trap me with the budget”, he would not take it quietly.
Dr. Yadav believes he would command wide political support if he chose to replace the government. Since the CA ended, the NC, Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist), the Upendra Yadav-led Madhesi Janaadhikar Forum, and the ultra-nationalist Maoist splinter outfit led by Mohan Vaidya ‘Kiran’, have all urged the President to dismiss Dr. Bhattarai. Dr. Yadav’s aides have been in touch with the judiciary to solicit support. And since he is of Madhesi background, the President believes that there will be no resistance in the Tarai.
But the Nepal Army (NA) has advised caution. Still recovering from the civil war, the NA does not seem to be in any mood to interfere in the political process. Except on matters where it has a direct stake, the NA has stayed away from politics and did not intervene even when the monarchy, its traditional patron, was abolished.
The new chief, General Gaurav Shumsher Rana, has publicly pledged to abide by the constitution and the Army Act, which clearly stipulates specific conditions under which forces can be mobilised. He believes that the political process should take its own course. The army’s position, constitutionally correct and politically prudent, will be a key factor in the President’s decision, and could deter any adventurist move.
India has largely adopted a hands-off approach in Nepal at the moment, despite some intensive lobbying from all sides to intervene on their behalf.
Indian official sources believe that the solution must emerge from the political process itself. They have encouraged all forces to moderate their respective positions and come to an agreement, and indicate that any unilateral move by the President will be counter-productive and fail to break the impasse.
Rajendra Dahal, the President’s press advisor, told The Hindu, “The interim constitution clearly states that the President is the protector and defender of the constitution. He has always held the primacy of the political parties and is only highlighting the need for consensus. But he is also under compulsion to resolve the deadlock.”
Mr. Dahal added the President knows his “limits”. “There will be no December 15, 1960 [when King Mahendra dismissed PM B.P. Koirala] or February 1, 2005 [Gyanendra Shah’s coup]. He will do nothing without the consent of parties.” Another presidential advisor said that Dr. Yadav could call for a “national unity government” under Article 38 (1) of the interim constitution.