Sunday, September 16, 2012

Confirmation, Not Cop-Out

Caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place, President Ram Baran Yadav finally erupted the other day.
“I am a creature of the interim constitution that you all prepared,” the president reportedly snapped during a meeting with the top leaders of four leading political parties. “If you cannot respect that office, take whatever decision you want to regarding the fate of this institution.”
Ever since the demise of the constituent assembly, before it could complete its assigned task of producing a new constitution, leaving Nepal in a vacuum, the people’s eyes have turned to the president.
Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai, facing mounting criticism for having led the country to the brink, contends that the head of state has no right to interfere with the status quo. Opponents of the incumbent government clamor that President Yadav is constitutionally obliged to sack Dr. Bhattarai’s government and are now growing impatient that he may be deepening the disaster by failing to act.
What can the president realistically do? Who does he really have to back him? A ceremonial head of state taking over the reins of power now cannot be construed as being anything different than the much-maligned royal interventions of October 4, 2002 or February 1, 2005, can it?
One may argue that the president, unlike the erstwhile king, is a symbol of modernity that represents a modicum of popular legitimacy. But does President Yadav really have the power to withstand the fallout any form of direct action would surely engender? Even if he could count on the military, police and bureaucracy, would they alone be able to sustain the course?
The Maoists may be a divided lot, but they still can rock the streets. The opposition leaders that are egging President Yadav on to do something will likely be among the first people to criticize him if things do not turn out to their liking.
The international community would be hard-pressed to go out of its way to endorse a controversial presidential intervention at this time without greater clarity about the legitimacy of the institution vis-à-vis the premiership. In many ways, foreign powers also are responsible for creating today’s mess. Even if they own up to breaking the product, would they be ready to own it?
India has never ceased giving mixed signals, while the Chinese are happily letting out all indications. The Americans are wooing the Maoists they once so assiduously worked to crush, while the Europeans are still in damage-control mode after their overreach on the issues of federalism and secularism.
For the distant powers, talk of restoring the constituent assembly or holding fresh elections works just fine, until there is some clarity in the approaches of Nepal’s two immediate neighbors. Grappling as they are with their own internal political issues, neither behemoth is likely to tip the scales right away.
In this situation, the president seems to have done his homework well. Saying that he did not expect the parties defying the constitution to uphold the dignity of the office of the president, President Yadav told the assembled leaders that he would be very happy if they took ‘any decision’ regarding the fate of his office.
Far from being a cop-out, Maila Baje thinks President Yadav’s words serve to underscore the timidity and tentativeness underlying the glorified effort to reinvent Nepal.