Favouring a chief executive

- MUKTI RIJAL
Favouring a chief executive

Oct 6, 2014-Professor Surya Prasad Subedi made an impassioned plea to Constituent Assembly (CA) members (Kantipur, September 15, Page 7) to act prudently when they deliberate and vote for institutional choices on the form and mode of governance for Nepal. According to Prof Subedi, who is based in England and has been knighted by Britian, Nepal needs a transformative constitution that will enable the country to secure fast-paced development. A development-oriented constitution should mean a basic rule of law to herald an era of democratic political resilience and stability. The president or prime minister, directly elected by the people for at least five to seven years, can deliver on this much-needed political stability to the country.

View from the UK

It is our earnest duty and responsibility, Prof Subedi exhorted the CA members, to create an institutional environment through the constitution that will allow Nepali citizens to participate in open electoral competition to get elected directly to the post of executive prime minister or president. What prompted an academic of international renown, who has been teaching at a university in England for decades, to make an appeal in favour of a directly elected chief executive is quite understandable. Prof Subedi has been a living, erudite witness to the workings of parliamentary democracy in the United Kingdom, and his suggestion to act carefully to make institutional choices in favour of a directly-elected executive head, in lieu of the Westminster model parliamentary democracy, deserves to be noted and appreciated.

Many successful democracies besides the United Kingdom, such as India, Australia and Canada, have adopted the parliamentary form of democracy. But in Nepal’s case, the adoption and practice of parliamentary democracy for the last two decades has been miserable. Even when the Nepali Congress-led government commanded a comfortable majority in Parliament, it was toppled in about two years due to internal squabbling within the party. Since then, fragile coalitions were formed to assume executive power but even they have collapsed, lasting not more than a year. Around 22 governments have been formed in less than two decades leading to much political instability and discord.

The French example

Nepal’s present unstable political situation can be compared with France from 1940 to 1958, where the average life of the Cabinet was less than eight months. Gregory S Mahler, a political scientist specialising in comparative government, depicts the political situation at that time as, “There were usually more than a dozen parties to be found in the legislature, which invariably meant that coalitions were necessary to necessary to form government majorities. These coalitions were not durable enough to withstand the short term pressures brought about by rapidly evolving political events, which resulted in the collapse of government after government.”

Considering the political instability stemming from the wrangling among political and social forces, it seems Nepal is in need of a Charles de Gaulle type of shock treatment, which not only gave a democratic constitution to France but also the strong leadership it needed for political resilience and stability. The French Constitution, promulgated in 1958, returned de Gaulle as head of state and made the president the key stone of state authority.

Though the French president should share ruling power with the prime minister, he or she exercises some power without the consent of the prime minister and the legislature. This extends to dissolving the national legislature and calling for new elections, among others. The goal of the 1958 French constitution was to free the executive from domination by the legislative, so as to bring about greater governmental stability. In Nepal’s case, there is also an urgent necessity to take executive authority out of its legislative fetters and ensure that the directly-elected president or prime minister is accountable to the people and that he or she can be outvoted or toppled through democratic elections by the electors. However, the semi-presidential type of executive that is provisioned in the fifth republican constitution in France does not work in Nepal, as two power centres anchored  by the president and prime minister will ever engage in collision.  

Politics of appeasement

The tug of war and factional strife that looms large, even among leaders within the party will also be reflected in the governance of the country, not to talk of the inter-party rivalry that has held the nation hostage. Apart from the political instability that is costing the economic and social life of the nation, malaise and corrupt practices have crept into the body politic. These can be attributed to the parliamentary model of democracy. Our own experiences have indicated that the sole concentration of the government lies in wooing and appeasing parliamentarians and power brokers to cling to power, instead of serving the long-term social, political, and developmental interest of the country. The constituency development fund allocations in the last budget presented by the NC-UML coalition is just one ugly manifestation of the politics of appeasement that has been practiced in Nepal for so long.

Additionally, we are about to agree on a mixed electoral system in the new constitution, which  blends First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) and proportional representation, which is bound to led to a hung parliament with coalitions of holy and unholy nexuses. This will ruin democratic politics with a bunch deadwood leaders reigning in the institutions of state power.

As has been aptly argued by Prof Subedi, should we adopt a parliamentary model, a syndicate of the old guard, irrespective of the parties, will always conspire to remain in the commanding positions of power, which is currently the case in Nepal, forestalling the bid of the new generation to rise to leadership positions in the party and government. We should therefore opt for a system that provides for the election of the chief executive on the basis of a popular vote. This can provide political stability and independence to a popularly elected leader to wield and exercise decisive authority in favour of the long-term interest of the nation.

Rijal holds a PhD in local governance and dispute resolution

Published: 07-10-2014 09:32

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