Published On: March 3, 2023 07:00 AM NPT By: Puspa Bhatta
KATHMANDU: Nepali Congress leader Ramchandra Paudel and UML Vice-chair Subash Chandra Nembang are the two candidates in the presidential election slated for March 9. While Paudel has the support of eight parties, so far, Nembang is backed by only the UML. With the presidential election less than a week away, Republica’s Pushpa Bhatta caught up with Nembang for an interview. Excerpts:
Why your candidacy for the presidency?
According to the new constitution, the president has special responsibilities. As a guardian, as the head of the country, s/he can play her/his role according to the constitution and laws from her/his level to take the country to the right destination while carrying out her/his responsibilities. My friends in other parties told me that it would be good for me to take up this role keeping in mind my experience so far and I decided accordingly.
How do you consider yourself a suitable candidate?
In the past, I served as the law minister in Manmohan Adhikari’s government. Then as the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee and a unanimous Speaker of the House of Representatives restored after the 2062/63 movement, a Unanimous Speaker of the Legislature Parliament after the Maoist comrades joined the political mainstream, and the Unanimous Speaker of the Constituent Assembly on behalf of the 31 political parties of the two Constituent Assemblies formed to finalize the constitution-making process. I think that the parties have been one in the past about me. I am of the opinion that it is appropriate to proceed with the responsibility of upholding and protecting the constitution which was drafted by the Constituent Assembly I chaired.
The arithmetic in parliament shows fewer votes in your favor. What do you see as the basis for winning?
Talking about the people's feelings, the entire nation from Mechi to Mahakali - from the Terai/Madhesh to Himal seems to be standing by my side. But it is not the common people who will vote; rather the electorate of the elected federal parliament and the seven provincial assemblies vote for the president and vice president. When we talk about arithmetic in parliament, we should clarify what arithmetic is? During the election of the president and vice president, no proposal is put forward in parliament.
There is definitely a position when the proposal moves forward in parliament. There is a matter of whips. But in the case of the election of the president and the vice president, when the electoral college is conducting the election, based on the concept of free and fair election, the way forward is to use the vote of conscience by adopting the process of healthy and clean election. So far I have contacted parties and MPs from the federal parliament to the provinces, all of them have said that they will support me in using the conscience vote. So I'm excited.
Are you confident of winning?
I am confident as well as excited.
Looking at the current equation, your victory is not guaranteed. How optimistic are you that this equation can be changed to favor you?
Equations seem to be changing in the country. I don't want to dwell on that. Whether it went well or not, I don't want to go that way, either. But I will say one thing - I have a good relationship with all political parties in parliament - from the federal parliament to the provincial assemblies. As the chairman of the Constituent Assembly, I have a cordial relationship with the parties and their leaders, even after completing the constitution making process with everyone's unanimous support and support.
Therefore, the equation or arithmetic, - these things do not make much difference in the election of the president and vice president. This is the place to exercise discretion. I believe that the parties as well as parliamentarians will use their conscience by considering who can fulfill the responsibilities given according to the constitution and the law and who can fulfill the role of maintaining the national unity of the country, who can best fulfill the responsibility of following and protecting the constitution.
As for me, I am tested. I have gone through more difficult tests in the past. The parties have made me the unanimous speaker many times. They made me the chairman of the Constituent Assembly twice. So I am very confident.
Do you see a situation that could lead to consensus?
The constitution has been made by the people for the people. We have adopted the parliamentary system. The beauty of the parliamentary system is that democracy is a healthy competition. We should not take healthy competition otherwise. So, the competition we are in, this competition itself is a process chosen by all of us. Therefore, going through this process should not be taken to mean that the parties did not reach a common conclusion.
Your party chairman has written letters to the parties and independent parliamentarians and asked for their votes in your favor. What kind of response are you getting from them?
The chairman wrote a letter to all the parties. The idea is to reach out to all, also the Nepali Congress, personally. I have been calling everyone. I have been meeting them and the response has been good so far. It's encouraging and everyone says they will help me. Some have said they will consider my request.
You met the Prime Minister only the day before yesterday (Tuesday). What was his reaction?
I met the prime minister and talked about the current situation as well. The current context has caused confusion again. It has also caused disappointment in the public as to what it is. The parties should pay attention to such things.
The whole country is facing a challenge now. The parties must arrive at a common ground amid that challenge. They have their own issues, there is competition, but the parties should stand together. We then discussed the role I played in the constitution making and the role I played and was playing in the peace process, asking for his support for the presidency, and the support of his party friends. He too said that it was right. He said he remembers my role well and wished me good luck.
What about helping you?
[His] best wishes mean several things. Let's not discuss that right now.
Can the equation change within a week?
I don’t want to associate the equation in parliament with the presidential election. I am a suitable candidate for the presidential election. I have been asking for votes with the Prime Minister himself and all my friends including Sher Bahadur Deuba (Nepali Congress President), saying that they should support me. So, I haven’t linked the presidential election process with the equation.
What do you think is the reason behind the intense fight between the political parties for the post of president which is a ceremonial post?
Two of us have stood up in the presidential election since the beginning. If you look at it like that, it doesn't look very sneaky. But on the other hand, people have complained about some questions. All those things should be settled by the parties; there is no dispute on that. If the decision had been made a little earlier without both parties making a decision only on the morning of 25th February, it would have been possible to get a little more time for discussion. That has also been questioned. However, we have developed healthy competition. I believe that a good conclusion will come from this healthy process.
What actually is this position of president? What should the president be like?
In the past, we had a system wherein a person born to a specific clan, that too the eldest son, would be the king. After a long time we changed it. We are now in a republic. Now, we have adopted a system which allows anyone from the general public from Mechi to Mahakali, from Tarai-Madhesh to the mountains can become the president. We have the experiences of two presidents.
Their experience is the experience of the whole country. Rather than the process of becoming president only by being born in a particular clan, now we have created a system where the son or daughter of the common people can become the president. Keeping that system in mind and taking into account the example set by the previous presidents, what I am saying is that our president should be the people's president. As the people's president, roads and skies should not be jammed when s/he steps out of Sheetal Niwas. People should feel at ease. Because s/he is the people's president. In this manner, the president should be a common personality for all, a common personality for all religions, and a common personality of all people from the Terai Madhesh to the Himalayas acting as the guardian of the country. S/he should act according to the constitution and laws.
How do you evaluate the work of the past two presidents?
There may be their own sorrows and some of them are subject to comment. I don't want to go there now. But I will say this, their experience is our experience. We have to work in the days to come, keeping that experience in mind. Maybe they also tried to put into practice what we said. But in doing so, I am now calling myself the people's president. They may have tried from their place to become the president of the people. But some difficulties may have appeared. Accepting those difficulties, if I become the president, I will try to be the people's president.
Do you want to say anything to Ramchandra Paudel, who is competing for the presidency with you?
I consider him a good friend. We have been together for a long time. I was the law minister in Manmohan Adhikari's cabinet when he was the Speaker of the House of Representatives. We have been together ever since. I have seen it closely but I don't want to make any other comment about him. My sincere best wishes to him. But in the same way, a healthy competition in elections leads to victory and defeat. I believe that this time somehow I will win in every way.
Have you had any contact or meeting with him recently?
We keep meeting. He is also in the House of Representatives now. I have consistently been in the House of Representatives. I keep meeting him. This matter has not been discussed. We shake hands with each other. And wish each other good luck. That's it.
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