Nepal’s president Ram Baran Yadav has formally called upon political parties to nominate a Prime Minister based on political consensus in the next seven days. His move comes in the wake of the government’s inability to forge consensus to hold elections for a Constituent Assembly (CA) on the declared date of November 22, and an opposition campaign seeking PM Baburam Bhattarai’s ouster.

An official release of the president’s office on Friday stated that since the end of the CA, despite repeated discussions with the government and political party leaders, the efforts to forge a political consensus to provide a ‘political and constitutional solution’ and ‘select a PM’ had not succeeded. In this backdrop, the president was ‘appealing’ to all parties to ‘recommend’ an ‘appropriate proposal’ for the selection of the PM and a Council of Ministers ‘based on political consensus’ under Article 38 (1) of the interim constitution. The president has given parties a deadline of November 29, 4 pm, to come up with consensus.

Soon after the term of the CA ended on May 27, the president had ‘relieved’ the PM of his ‘post’, on the grounds that he was no longer a member of the legislature-parliament. But the president had asked the PM to continue performing his duties till another government was constituted.

Implications

Explaining the ‘spirit’ of the move, the president’s press advisor, Rajendra Dahal, told The Hindu, “This is an attempt by the president to resolve the political deadlock, while sticking to constitutional methods.”

Consensus remains elusive as the ruling Maoists have urged the opposition parties to join PM Bhattarai’s cabinet and transform it into a national unity government. The opposition has instead demanded that the PM immediately step down to make way for a new unity government. But it has not presented an alternative PM candidate yet.

If no consensus is reached, Article 38 (2) of the interim constitution says the PM shall be elected by a majority in the parliament. But Nepal currently does not have a legislature. When asked about president’s plan if the parties miss the deadline, Mr Dahal said that in the past, the president, on the request of the parties, gave an additional few days. “The decision will come back to president and political forces."

He claimed that Dr Yadav had ‘pre-informed’ the political leaders, including the PM, about his move, and said, “Events are moving sequentially, and in a positive direction.”

A PMO reaction

The Maoists have not yet officially reacted to the move, with chairman Prachanda and PM Bhattarai meeting in the evening to frame the party’s view.

But a senior source in the Prime Minister’s office denied that the president’s appeal had the consent of the Maoist leadership. Wishing to remain anonymous given the sensitive nature of the office of the president and PM, the PM’s aide told The Hindu that this was like the October 4, 2002 move of King Gyanendra when he dismissed an elected PM for failing to hold elections. “The interim constitution does not give the president any such right. He has to act on the recommendation of the Council of Ministers, which has the responsibility of finding consensus.”

He questioned, “Article 38 (1) is applicable for parties in parliament to reach consensus. When there is no parliament, who recommends the PM candidate; what are the qualifications of such a candidate; how do you select a PM when you have dismissed the current one on grounds of not being a legislator? We have gone outside the constitutional track.” A senior Maoist leader claimed the president has usurped the political rights vested in the parties. “If this move is considered legitimate, tomorrow he can appoint anyone he wants as PM. This is regression, and can only lead to an accident. But this is my personal view. ”

Other usually well-informed sources suggested to The Hindu that the president had spoken to Maoist chairman Prachanda in the morning. “The chairman and PM may react differently to this situation. Let us wait for the party’s view. The situation may not escalate.”

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