The elusive consensus

Instead of a new prime minister, Nepal looks set for a constitutional breakdown

As expected, top leaders of the big four political groupings failed to propose a consensus candidate for a new prime minister on November 29, the deadline set by President Ram Baran Yadav. The Nepali Congress (NC), Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M), Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) and the Madhesi Front asked for the extension of the deadline by a week, something the president readily accepted.

But there is still no sign that a consensus will emerge by the December 6 deadline. Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai, half-heartedly backed by his cabinet, has launched a tirade against Yadav, warning the president that he will meet the fate of former King Gyanendra. An emergency cabinet meeting last week asserted that all executive powers under the interim constitution are vested in the cabinet, and that the president went beyond his remit in calling for Bhattarai's replacement.

Yadav, by virtue of his post, has chosen not to go public, but has privately expressed his dissatisfaction about the manner in which the PM has conducted himself in public. Joining issue with the PM, the CPN-UML's senior leader and former PM Madhav Nepal said, "By threatening to dislodge the president, Bhattarai is trying to give a mortal blow to the only symbol of republicanism." The president may have got the support of most parties, but there are fears that his likely decisive role if there is no consensus will bring him into controversy, especially under Article 38 (1) of the interim constitution. The article is explicitly for choice of PM by the legislature which does not exist now.

And his emphasis on "consensus among political parties", some constitutional experts say, amounts to Yadav trying to appropriate that right of the legislature. The fact that the president has repeatedly been calling only top leaders of the big four parties for consultation is seen as a message that he is excluding others from the process. There's little scope for the president to retreat after the plunge he has taken. If consensus eludes the parties, Yadav may invoke other clauses and call for choosing a PM by "majority".

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