Nepal parties treat provincial governors as their pawns, threatening the nascent republicanism

A governor (province chief) in Nepal, like the country’s president, is a ceremonial post. The position was envisioned when Nepal adopted federalism in 2017 as per the 2015 constitution. The governor’s role, according to the constitution, is similar to that of the president but limited to their respective provinces.

They are supposed to accept or reject the recommendation made by the provincial councils of ministers, read out policy and programme, enact bills or ask provincial assemblies to reconsider these bills for amendment and work within the rules mentioned in the constitution.

The governor has not been given an executive role in the government even though they play a major role in how their respective province is run including the formation and running of the provincial government and enactment of laws.

But, in the past three years, the role of the governor has come into question due to the manner in which they have been appointed and removed; they have been changed by the central government freely. Further, there have been questions of their integrity as the central government has been using the governors as a weapon to alter provincial politics in their favour. Over the past year, there have also been examples of the political parties appointing an incapable leader as the governor to ensure that whatever they want happens in the province.

A governor changing with the change in the central government is not an uncommon affair. But in Nepal, governors are being replaced as soon as the prime minister changes. The position of the governor has been misused by the federal ruling party to make provincial governments in its own favour. Meanwhile, some governors also delayed the process of handing over power even if the opposition parties garner majority support.

There have also been examples of governors sending back the bills already passed by the provincial assemblies for discussions and asking healthy provincial assembly members to call in sick to alter the voting process to manipulate decision making. All these have seriously affected the nascent republicanism in Nepal, view experts.

A wrong start

The first batch of Nepal’s provincial governors, 2018-19

When governors were appointed first in 2018, all parties have got their fair share. The person who suggested this was current Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba. But, experts say that this should never have been the case.

Dipendra Jha, the chief attorney of Province 2, says the governor’s role should have been given to a person who is impartial, trusted and honest. “A person who has given his/her all to the country should have been given this role,” he says.

But, when Deuba, before his fourth term as prime minister ended, ensured that all parties would get their at least one person among the seven governors.

He had consulted with erstwhile Rastriya Janata Party and erstwhile Socialist Forum and appointed governors for all seven provinces. RJP and Forum got one each while the remaining five belonged to Nepali Congress. All seven appointees were active political leaders.

The first seven governors were Govindna Subba (Province 1), Ratneshwar Lal Kayastha (Province 2), Anuradha Koirala (Bagmati), Baburam Kunwar (Gandaki), Uma Kanta Jha (Lumbini), Durga Keshar Khanal (Karnali) and Mohan Raj Malla (Sudurpachim Province).

Subba was a local NC leader while Kayashta was the Forum’s cadre. Celebrated social worker Koirala had recently joined the NC before her appointment whereas Kunwar was a close aide to Shushil Koirala. Jha was a minister, Khanal a senior NC leader and Malla had only joined the NC a few days before being appointed.

Deuba – Oli – Deuba

Newly appointed governors (province chiefs) take the oath of office from President Bidya Devi Bhandari, on Tuesday, November 5, 2019.

The trend that started with Deuba continued when KP Sharma Oli became prime minister as he changed everyone appointed by Deuba, which Deuba has changed again after taking office.

The first lot of governors appointed by Deuba were in office from January 17, 2018, to November 3, 2019. All of them were removed from office by Oli once he took office.

Like Deuba, Oli also chose to appoint yes-men (and one woman) to the position of governors. As it was a coalition, Oli did, however, consult with Pushpa Kamal Dahal before appointing governors as four were from the CPN-UML whereas three were from the CPN-Maoist Centre.

Somnath Adhikari Pyasi (Province 1), Tilak Pariyar (Province 2), Bishnu Prasad Prasai (Bagmati), Amik Sherchan (Gandaki), Dharmanath Yadav (Lumbini), Govinda Prasad Kalauni (Karnali) and Sharmila Kumari Panta Tripathi (Sudurpachim) were appointed by Oli on November 2019.

All seven appointees were active in politics for either the UML or the Maoists. Sherchan and Adhikari were invitees to the standing committee of the party formed after the unification of the UML and the Maoists while Pariyar was the party’s central committee member. Prasai had even lost his Jhapa mayoral elections. Yadav was the party’s central member and Siraha district co-in-charge whereas Kulaini, on the other hand, had been a UML leader for a long time. Tripati was a member of the conflict-affected family.

Adhikari, Prasai, Yadav and Kalauni all were Oli supporters, that is why Madhav Kumar Nepal was upset as there was no consultation within the party before the appointment. Nepal had even filed a note of dissent after this.

According to a source close to the party, Nepal wanted Biswakant Mainali, Pradeep Nepal, Raghuji Panta, Beduram Bhusal and Shree Maya Thakali to be appointed governors. Apart from Mainali, all others were also active in politics.

During Oli’s time, he was often criticised for being too authoritarian. But, much of it was justified as after his tensions with Dahal, he removed all governors associated with the Maoists.

By March 4, Oli removed Pariyar, Sherchan, and Panta and replaced them with Rajesh Jha (Province 2), Sita Paudel (Gandaki) and Ganga Prasad Yadav (Sudurpachin).

Now that Deuba is at the helm, he has already started removing the governors appointed by Oli. He has already removed Paudel and Dharma Nath Yadav and replaced them with Prithvi Man Singh Gurung (Gandakri) and Amik Sherchan (Lumbini). Sherchan has already severed as the governor of Gandaki.

There was a chance for Deuba to not repeat the same mistakes, but he has done the same thing again.

Serving the party interests

Due to party partisanship, disrespecting such a post has been a common affair in the past few years. An example is an issue in Lumbini and the role Governor Dharma Nath Yadav played in the removal of its chief minister.

On April 22, the Lumbini Provincial Assembly meeting was called to discuss the no-confidence motion against Chief Minister Shankar Pokhrel. But before the discussion could begin, Pokhrel resigned from his post.

The opposition parties, stating they had a majority of 42 lawmakers, put forward Kul Prasad KC to replace Pokhrel as the CM. But, soon, Pokhrel also staked his claim to be the CM, claiming he had 41 lawmakers in his favour.

To tackle this, Governor Yadav did two things. Firstly, he did not check who actually had a majority. Secondly, he appointed Pokhrel the CM. Puzzled by all this, the opposition, with signatures of 42 lawmakers, wrote to the governor asking him to revoke his decision. But, Yadav turned a blind eye to all this and avoided the issue altogether.

This resulted in a stand-off at the Provincial Assembly as the opposition was hell-bent on stopping Pokhrel from taking the oath. But, disregarding all this, Governor Yadav facilitated the oath at the chief minister’s office and made Pokhrel the province’s CM again.

Sita Paudel also had a hard time after being the Gandaki governor on May 5. As soon as she took office, she said it was time the province’s speaker resigned. When she took office, the Gandaki Provincial Assembly had been prorogued indefinitely. There was confusion among everyone on how to take the assembly forward. To start things, she asked the speaker to resign as she felt that the speaker was the person responsible for the assembly to function properly.

This statement was criticised heavily by people’s representatives as they felt a person who sits in a ceremonial post could not make such statements. “The speaker might have been wrong, but he is elected by the people, not like the governor who is appointed based on political connection,” says a member of the Provincial Assembly.

Paudel’s partition behaviour got exposed during the appointment of the next chief minister after incumbent Prithvi Subba Gurung lost the vote of confidence in the assembly. Then, the opposition parties gave the name of Krishna Chandra Nepali Pokharel for the next CM, stating they had 31 votes, which in Gandaki is a clear majority. But, Paudel stalled the appointment for several hours.

Province 2 Governor Rajesh Jha also has his fair share of challenges. He was heavily criticised when he rejected two bills forwarded by the Provincial Assembly.

Jha said the Health Bill did not have a provision for protecting motherhood and the Provincial Medal Bill did not have a provision for honouring farmers and wanted them changed to add these provisions. The provincial government added these things and sent them to Jha. But, Jha returned the bills again to the Provincial Assembly. On the Health Bill, he added 13 more points and on the Provincial Medal Bill, he added 11 points and asked the lawmakers to change it.

Former Governor Baburam Kunwar says that a governor can suggest changes to a bill, but in Province 2’s case, there has been a lot of changes.

“I think he tried to be too active and became too authoritative and said he would not pass the bill,” says Kunwar. “That is wrong.”

The Province 2 Chief Attorney Dipendra Jha says Rajesh Jha was a bit out of hand and his actions went against the constitution.

“He sent back two bills and asked for inclusiveness, which is good. But, this isn’t what a governor should be doing according to the constitution anyway,” says the attorney. “But, he’s not been able to answer on what basis he returned these bills.”

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Bajagain is a sub-editor at Onlinekhabar, looking into parliamentary and judicial issues.

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