March 2023 Analysis: Domestic Politics & Governance

Posted by : Sourav Dahal


Date : 2023-03-30

Throughout the month of March, political parties got occupied with affairs of coalition. With a major realignment in coalition, the Nepali Congress’s candidate, Mr Ram Chandra Poudel, and the Janata Samajwadi Party’s candidate Ram Sahay Yadav were elected as the President and Vice President respectively. PM Pushpa Kamal Dahal secured the confidence of the Lower House for the second time but struggled to expand the cabinet for almost a month. Only on 31st March, PM Dahal finally expanded the cabinet. The attorney general decided to not proceed with court case against ex-minister Rabi Lamichhane in case of misuse of invalid citizenship certificate, which is viewed, as quid pro quo move to ensure the support of his party to the Dahal-led government. On the other side, the government presented a bill to amend the Enforced Disappearances Enquiry, Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act after the Supreme Court ordered to allow writ petition against Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal over his statement that he would take responsibility of five thousand lost lives during the Maoist insurgency.


Timeline of Major Events

Dates Events
March 4 Supreme Court ordered to allow writ petition against Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal over his statement that he would take responsibility of five thousand lost lives during the Maoist insurgency.
March 9 Nepali Congress’s candidate Ram Chandra Poudel gets elected as the third President.
March 17 The Janata Samajwadi Party’s candidate Ram Sahay Yadav gets elected as the third Vice President.
March 20 PM Dahal secures confidence of the lower house for the second time.
March 20 The government presented a bill to amend the Enforced Disappearances Enquiry, Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act in the Lower House.
March 21 Attorney General decided not to forward case against ex-home minister Rabi Lamichhane in case of invalid citizenship, and misuse of passport.
March 31 PM Dahal expanded the cabinet, and Janamat Party quits the government.

Election of the President and Vice President

On 9th March, Nepali Congress’s senior leader Ram Chandra Paudel was elected as the third President of Nepal, defeating the CPN-UML’s candidate Subash Chandra Nemwang. The Nepali Congress’s candidate was supported by the CPN (Maoist Center), CPN (Unified Socialist), Janata Samajwadi Party, Rastriya Swatantra Party, among others.

Many Facets of the Presidential Election

The Presidential election induced a major political shake-up leading to the break-up of the ruling alliance, and major realignment of parties. After the November polls, the CPN-UML and CPN (Maoist Center) had joined hands to form the government but the collaboration had a rocky four months, and the presidential election served as the coup de grace for the already-fragile coalition.

The constitution of Nepal envisions the role of President as the non-partisan state-head with limited constitutional roles, however, over the years, the institution has become a major power center within the system. At times of major political crisis, the political parties have shown proclivity to use the institution of presidency to their favor. The last President Bidya Devi Bhandari’s two-time tenure was occupied with partisan proclivities and unconstitutional moves – all to favor her erstwhile party CPN-UML. The tenure of the first President Ram Baran Yadav wasn’t free of partisan acts either. After the 2017 polls, then NCP’s and then subsequently CPN-UML’s top leader KP Sharma Oli, time and again, sought political favor from ex-President Bhandari, and fearing that the same would repeat again, and also to not let CPN-UML grab all the major power center which already had the speaker of the lower house, the CPN (Maoist Center) remained firmed to not let the CPN-UML’s candidate win the presidential election. This dramatic realignment in coalitions, in the eve of presidential polls, is reflective of further politicization of the institution of presidency. This raises doubt if the current President Ram Chandra Poudel would be able to set right precedents, unlike his predecessors, rising above party politics, and fulfilling his constitutional duties up to the mark.

Vice Presidential Election

On March 17, 2023, candidate of the Janata Samajwadi Party Ram Sahay Prasad Yadav got elected as the third Vice President of Nepal. Mr Yadav was supported by the ten-party newly formed ruling alliance. The ruling alliance had earlier failed to reach a consensus on the common candidate, and there were two other candidates, Ms Pramila Yadav of the Janata Samajwadi Party itself and Ms Mamata Jha of the Janamat Party as candidates from the ruling alliance.

The Need to Empower Vice-Presidency

While the Vice-President acts as the acting President in absence of the President, there are no other important constitutional roles designated for the vice-president. Of late, there has been a growing call to makes changes within the constitution so as to assign some constitutional duties to the Vice President to make the post meaningful and effective within the system. Some have even proposed to adopt what is a common practice in quite a few countries of appointing the speaker of the Upper House, that is the National Assembly in our case, as the Vice President.

Ruling alliance expanded the cabinet after a month-long effort

On 27 February, the CPN-UML had withdrawn support to the Dahal-led government, and the ministers from the party resigned en masse. The ministers from the Rastriya Prajatantra Party and Rastriya Swatantra party had also resigned en masse in February itself. By then, it was already inevitable that the Nepali Congress, and the CPN (Unified Socialist) would join the Dahal-led government. However PM Dahal failed to expand the cabinet up until last days of the month, only on March 31st was the cabinet expanded. Meanwhile, presidential and vice-presidential election got over, and Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda) secured the confidence of the lower house on 20th March for the second time. The ten parties including the Nepali Congress, CPN (Unified Socialist), Rastriya Swatantra Party, Janamat Party, Janata Samajwadi Party, Loktantrik Samajwadi Party, Rastriya Janamorcha among others lent confidence to the Dahal government. However, PM Dahal was holding 16 different ministerial portfolios for more than a month. In the newly-formed cabinet, the Nepali Congress has got eight different ministerial portfolios, CPN Maoist Center five, CPN Unified Socialist two, Janata Samajwadi Party two, Loktantrik Samajwadi Party one, Nepal Samajwadi Party one, Nagarik Unmukti Party one, Janamat Party one, and Aam Janata Party one.

All Eyes on Sought-After Ministries

The major problem in cabinet expansion was the allocation of sought-after ministries, like Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Finance. It is telling that each party of the ruling coalition lobbied for the sought-after powerful ministries while the service-oriented ministries were kept in second priority. The rivalry between three Madhes-based parties, and disagreements between member-parties over revising the common minimum program of the government have added to the challenge. At the last moment of the cabinet expansion, the Janamat Party decided to quit government over failing to gain ministries of its choice. On the other side, there were numerous aspirants within each member parties, and internal management of leaders was also a difficult task.

Quest for Power and Corruption Nexus; Governance at the Backseat

The political parties’ and leaders’ obsession with a few ministries is revealing of deep-rooted problems within the system. Ideally, parties and leaders should have been focused to win confidence of general public with good governance and deliveries; however, leaders fixated to ensure “powerful” ministries and ministries with high-budgetary spending reveals the corruption-nexus plaguing the system. Parties and leaders are rather interested in acquisition of power, than in deliveries – a trend that has persisted for decades. The situation is further exacerbated by the hung parliament, after the November poll, which has paved a way for all sorts of possibilities of realignment between parties. Since then, the political parties have been primarily concerned with coalition affairs – coalition building, and in keeping the coalition intact – rather than addressing critical issues facing the nation.

In the last three months, there have been two major realignments in coalitions, the cabinet has been reshuffled seventh times. And to secure the support of the Rastriya Swatantra Party which has twenty members in the lower house, the attorney general, Mr Dinmani Pokhrel, has decided not to proceed with court case against the party’s President Rabi Lamichhane in the case of invalid citizenship certificate and misuse of passport. While political parties are occupied with messy coalition affairs, good governance has taken a backseat, and if these first few months are anything to go by, the road ahead seems rocky and unstable.

Government tabled a bill to amend the Enforced Disappearances
Enquiry, Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act in the Lower House

On 4th March, the Supreme Court ordered to allow writ petitions against PM Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda) over his statement that he would take responsibility of five thousand lost lives of total seventeen thousand during a decade-long Maoist insurgency. Then, on 20th March, the government tabled an amendment bill to the Enforced Disappearance Enquiry, Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act in the Lower House. The amendment bill has categorized human rights violations of varying degrees with a provision to prosecute those involved in serious crimes. All ten member parties of the ruling alliance have supported the bill while two parties, Rastriya Prajatantra Party and Nepal Majdoor Kishan Party have opposed it. However, a few members of the main party of the ruling alliance Nepali Congress have criticized the bill with a claim that some of its provisions aim to protect perpetrators.

It is imperative to ensure that all severe offenses are subject to legal jurisdiction, however, it is equally crucial to differentiate political crimes committed during the insurgency phase and effectively conclude the transitional justice procedure. It is important to strike a balance between ensuring justice for victims of human rights violations committed during the Maoist insurgency while also ensuring reconciliation. The amendment bill should be evaluated based on its ability to achieve these objectives, rather than solely on political considerations. As such, there is a need for transparency in dealing with these sensitive issues and finding a balance between justice and peace-building efforts. The government needs to ensure that all parties involved in human rights violations are held accountable without any form of impunity and provide reparations to the victims; all the while treating political cases and crimes under different light. It would also be necessary to engage civil society organizations, including victim groups, in shaping transitional justice policy so as to address their concerns effectively.