By Maila Baje
Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli’s discernably declining health has led to rival theories on succession.
The first – and quite peculiar – school involves the appointment of Bidya Devi Bhandari as head of government. Whether she would step down – quite literally – from the presidency to take a more active role in leading the country or hold the two offices concurrently is unclear. Either way, it would mark something unforeseen by our Constitution. (Not that the humble basic law of the land stands in the way of anything these days.)
As trial balloons go, advocates of this line – albeit no one is openly identifiable with its genesis yet – contend that it is part of the innovation Nepali politics has been compelled to undergo as part of our own circumstances. Moreover, since Nepalis tend to know what they do not want better than what they do, eternal experimentation alone can be the most encouraging way forward.
This ostensible effort to empower Bhandari is also a clear attempt to checkmate Nepal Communist Party (NCP) co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s chances to return to the premiership. Oli’s presumed successor – presumed most strongly perhaps by himself – has been making his own moves. After skipping what was deemed a crucial visit to China – citing reasons so amply varied to be equally plausible – Dahal has been amplifying his contention Nepal would be internationalizing the Kalapani dispute with India at its own peril.
While that would certainly be music to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ears, it might not be enough to salvage Dahal’s prime ministerial candidacy from that end. And it’s not if Dahal is about to publicly chastise Oli for attempting to send a special envoy to Modi without ascertaining whether the Indian premier would receive him. If Oli and the special envoy – Madhav Kumar Nepal – both have eggs on their face, Dahal surely doesn’t see the urgency of extending facial tissues. He has more pressing matters.
The crucial first party meeting Dahal convened after acquiring executive powers as co-chair of the NCP wasn’t too solid on either symbolism or substance for him. The fact that key members stayed away didn’t give Dahal a strong start. The futility of waiting for biology to honor his prime ministerial power-sharing deal with Oli having been so unexpectedly exposed, Dahal can hope for the Bhandari experiment to fail. That might even help to materialize his long-held desire to become executive president of Nepal.
Ordinarily, the Bhandari option would have merited all-round derision if not outright dismissal. We’re here today because a constitutional monarch empowered by the then-constitution to safeguard the basic law dared to assume executive powers to conduct local and national elections and hand over power to an elected government in three years. A ceremonial president taking over a government enjoying a near-two-thirds majority is something that can happen only when there are too many contenders in the ruling party cancelling out one another. The fact that Dahal couldn’t place himself as the front-runner among the NCP’s list of ex-premiers emboldened a former deputy prime minister, Bam Dev Gautam, to advance himself as the best candidate.
The prime minister is sick, the speaker is behind bars and the chief justice is entangled in the contradictions of the judiciary. Yet all is well, we are told. Maybe it is. After all, who is to say that Oli can’t or won’t name an executive/co-premier as he strengthens his survival instincts, politically and physically?