Print Edition - 2014-05-11  |  Free the Words

What kind of government

  • Federalism has taken precedence in the national agenda but form of governance has yet to see public debate
- Khagendra N Sharma
What kind of government

May 10, 2014-

I still remember my professor telling me in 1956, “For forms of government, let fools contest; Whatever is best administered is best”.

Until the other day, I had accepted this cliche to be true in all respects. But when it comes to choosing the right government for the new republic of Nepal, I find the quote rather intriguing. We are restructuring the unitary state structure into a federal one. The dynastic monarchy is gone. There has been some public debate regarding the nature of the federal structure but there has been very poor to almost no debate about the form of the new government to be adopted in the proposed constitution. Let me start a modest debate in order to facilitate discussion in the Constituent Assembly (CA) ab-out the pros and cons of some models.

As of now, there have been three distinct party choices—the UCPN (Maoist)is in favour of a directly-elected President with a Parliamentry structure; the CPN-UML for a directly-elected Prime Minister (PM) with a President elected by the Parliament; and the Nepali Congress (NC) more or less for the continuation of the present Parliamentary system. Of course,

there are some intrinsic merits and demerits to all of these forms. But Nepal does not yet have any experience of the first two forms and it cannot be predicted how the political system will adapt to them.

Going by experience

Nepal so far only has experience of the Parliamentary model, which is somewhat of a universal model as newly independent states have copied this system from their past colonial masters. Nepal adopted the Parliamentary model from its southern neighbour, where pioneering Nepali political leaders were acquainted with the system. With the dynastic monarch as the head of state, no leader had

even thought of a republic. In principle, the monarchy was not incompatible with the Parliamentary system because it had emerged in the very heartland of monarchy—in Britain. But under the veil of democracy, there was much scope for the manipulation of political power after the restoration of multiparty democracy in 1990.  

The charm of the Parliamentary system is that leaders have the most opportunity to come to power despite similar chances of being removed. If a party has a numerical majority in Parliament, it can use power any way it likes. Other leaders can then vie for the post of PM by toppling the current government. But if there is no party with a clear majority, there are endless probabilities for unhealthy maneuvering, leading to political instability. Nepal has had much experience of this kind even in its short history of democracy. In fact, the decade-long insurgency was the result of this senseless maneuvering for snatching power. Nevertheless, this system is least unsuited for Nepal because we know no better.

The Presidential system

The system with a directly elected President is best exemplified by the US. There were three special features in the US’ Presidential system. It tried for the first time to formulate a state with a formal separation of powers with the legislative, executive and judiciary being independent of each other, although specific checks and balances were later developed to provide homogeneity to government. This system has been successful for over two and a half centuries because of some special features, the most conspicuous being that it has had a more-or-less two party system and its political hegemony has never been threatened. As a result, its economic rise has been sustained.

There are now several countries with a President as the head of state and government. But they have not all been successful cases. Most represent moderate to harsh authoritarian rule by despotic leaders. The conspicuously limiting feature of this type is that very few people have the opportunity to join the executive. The legislature is not co-related with the executive as in the Parliamentary system. So, the President cannot drive the legislature by facilitating its programme. Even in the most successful case of the US, the President often cannot get his programme passed by Congress (the national legislature).

The model with a directly-elected PM and a President elected by Parliament is a rare example. Even with the PM elected by Parliament as its leader, the head of government happens to be an ornamental one. A PM directly elected by the majority of the people has a disproportionately large stature where the PM can stifle the majority of Parliament. The PM is only responsible  to the people, which is not easy to measure except through a national referendum or a general election. The votes received by such a PM can be equal to or even greater than the total votes received by the majority of Members of Parliament. In this situation, who can dare challenge the PM? And the PM can easily be motivated to use unbriddled power. The President, elected by the majority of national legislators plus the state legislators, appears far weaker in power than a directly elected PM. An ambitious PM with support from the majority of the population can override any counsel and no authority can constrain their power.

The Parliamentary model

The third model is a type not unknown to the Nepali people.The Parliamentary system has its share of demerits but its greatest utility is that people know how to behave under the Parliamentary system. As such, there can be a fair degree of foretelling what consequences will emerge from a given situation. For example, if any party fails to obtain a majority in the legislature,several leaders can expect to be PM.

Those who have opted for a directly elected President or a directly elected PM have ignored their past experience of misusing power and constant infighting. They have failed to foresee that such opportunities will be absolutely limited with a directly-elected head of state or government. Nepali leaders have disproved the choice of form that is good in principle in favour of a form that yields to their taste in practice. The question is that of actual orientation rather than the soundness of quality. Our leaders are well versed in pulling down the PM from the very first day of his inauguration and ultimately toppling him from his seat. They not only do not know the intricacies of any other form, they also do not have the patience to watch and judge the result of the form of their own choice. They will be baffled the

moment they realise there is no way to topple government with the aim of inheriting power.

Sharma is a freelance political analyst

Published: 11-05-2014 08:03

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