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Friday, September 28, 2012

Nepal's politics going out of parties' control


Yuba Nath Lamsal

The agreement reached between four major political forces had instilled optimism among the people that the country would be rid of protracted crisis and deadlock. These forces namely, the UCPN-Maoist, the Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and Madhesi Front, had unanimously arrived at a conclusion that the fresh election as the only solution to the present political crisis and they collectively agreed to go for the polls. But it soon fizzled out as different parties started interpreting the agreement differently in a narrow partisan perspective.
In a democracy, elections are said to be the best democratic practices. It is through election, people articulate their opinion and verdict on the national issues. If we go by the general practice, political parties and candidates, prior to the election, make their stance on certain national issues clear and present their overall policies and programmes. Eligible citizens vote to certain candidate or parties based on their views, stance, policies and programmes expressed through the election manifesto. It is through election, people, in a way, participate in the governance by electing their representatives to govern.
In this way, elections are always welcome in democratic system. Election is the system to seek people’s opinion and verdict on national politics, policies and national issues. People who believe in democracy do not and should not oppose the election. But in Nepal’s case, common sense and values hardly work, which are clearly evident in the asymmetrical views expressed by leaders and parties on the same and similar issues on different occasions. In other words, parties and leader interpret the same thing differently on different occasion to suit their personal and partisan interest. The root of all political problems that we have faced is the inconsistency of the political parties and their leaders.
The recent stance and decision of the parties on election are the clear evidence of inconsistency of parties on their stance and rhetoric. As the parties had earlier failed to agree on some key issues, the Constituent Assembly (CA) failed to deliver a new constitution. In the failure to deliver the constitution, all parties, big or small and ruling or opposition are equally responsible. None of the political parties represented in the Constituent Assembly appeared practically serious on constitution. All parties stuck to their own partisan and sectarian stance and agenda. They refused to make compromise and arrive at a middle and pragmatic ground to resolve the contentious and controversial issues. They were in the mood to let the CA die if their agendas were not accepted and incorporated. This mentality failed the CA, which ultimately saw its demise without accomplishing the mandated task.
The demise of the Constituent Assembly created a political and constitutional problem in the country. The Interim Constitution has not foreseen the failure of the Constituent Assembly and another election for the CA. The extension of the CA was the alternative way to prevent the country from sliding into constitutional crisis. But that option, too, was blocked by the verdict of the Supreme Court. In its verdict, the Supreme Court ruled that the Constituent Assembly cannot be extended for another terms. The most difficult situation surfaced in Nepal's political landscape on May 28 because neither the Constituent Assembly was able to deliver the constitution nor was there any room for the extension of the CA. Under such difficult circumstance, the government was left with no option other than announcing the fresh election.
The election was definitely not the choice of the government but compulsion. But the opposition parties mainly the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML came vehemently against the election declaration. They even threatened to boycott the election held under the government headed by Dr Baburam Bhattarai. The election announced earlier had to be cancelled in the absence of necessary legal tools. The opposition parties welcomed the decision of the Election Commission that it was unable to hold election on the announced date.
But the same parties are now raising the issue of fresh election and they have agreed for it. This is yet another example of parties’ double standard. If election was, at all, necessary, the parties should have agreed on the date already announced and all legal hurdles for election could have been sorted out on the basis of consensus among the parties. Moreover, the recent agreement on the necessity of fresh election reached among the political parties clearly indicates that the decision of the Prime Minister and the government to declare election was politically and morally correct and justified.
Then why opposition parties opposed the election until a month ago and why they have now seen the election as the only option? Firstly, parties are devoid of moral ground and political outlook. Secondly, they do not have faith on democracy and free election. They want election to be conducted by the government under their leadership. This implies that parties do not want free and fair election but to influence and manipulate the election through the misuse of power. This is the raison d’ĂȘtre behind their demand to remove the present government and form another government under their own leadership. But they should understand the fact that leadership of the government alone would not ensure victory in the election. If this was the basis for victory in the election, the Nepali Congress would have won majority in the Constituent Assembly election held four years ago because the election was held by the government headed by the Nepali Congress chief late Girija Prasad Koirala.
The logic of the Nepali Congress behind its demand to head the next election government, too, is frivolous and silly. The Congress leaders are of the view that the Nepali Congress did not get even a single chance to lead the government in the last four years whereas the UCPN-Maoist and the CPN-UML were able to lead the government twice. This logic also does not have solid ground. The leadership of the government is not something that is to be given when someone demands. But party or leaders take the leadership by proving their own worth and supremacy in the contemporary national politics. Fortunately or unfortunately, the Nepali Congress has failed to prove its worth and supremacy in the present politics of Nepal. One likes it or not, the politics of Nepal is revolving around the UCPN-Maoist. If the Congress’ logic is to be taken into consideration for leadership of the government, the Nepali Congress may still not be eligible to get this chance. This is because Nepali Congress has already led ten governments— five governments led by Girija Prasad Koirala, two by Krishna Prasad Bhattarai and three by Sher Bahadur Deuba— after the political change in 1990. CPN-UML led the three governments— one by Manmohan Adhikari, one by Madhav Nepal and one by Jhalnath Khanal. But UCPN-Maoist has got the chance of leading the government only twice—one by Puspa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ and the other one is the present government headed by Dr Baburam Bhattarai — despite being the largest political party.  By this account too, the Maoists claims to continue to lead the government is logical and has justification.

But these logics do not count much in the present difficult situation. The country is in worst political crisis in history. Under such circumstances, political parties need to be more flexible and pragmatic. If parties continue to pursue their partisan agenda, political solution can never be found which means the country would be in perpetual crisis and transition. Thus, the parties need to bury their personal and partisan agenda and interest and arrive at a compromising point to steer the country out of this protracted stalemate. The inherent spirit of the Interim Constitution is the collective approach and consensus among the parties on all issues until a constitution is written and promulgated.  People are aware of the fact that the political parties are responsible for the present protracted crisis. They are also aware that the solution should be found by political parties themselves because there is no alternative to political parties in a democracy.
But things may go wrong way if parties continue to commit mistakes and do not realize it. In such an eventuality, people may take the political parties as the root of the problems, which would be unfortunate for the country and our fledgling democracy. When people think that parties are the problems, then no one would ever know which direction the politics would go. But the way parties are behaving, it seems that the politics is slowly slipping out of their hand and control. If that is the case, it may only invite either anarchy and civil war or direct external intervention. Thus, parties need to tackle the problem before it goes beyond their control.

Nepal's politics going out of parties’ control
Yuba Nath Lamsal

The agreement reached between four major political forces had instilled optimism among the people that the country would be rid of protracted crisis and deadlock. These forces namely, the UCPN-Maoist, the Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and Madhesi Front, had unanimously arrived at a conclusion that the fresh election as the only solution to the present political crisis and they collectively agreed to go for the polls. But it soon fizzled out as different parties started interpreting the agreement differently in a narrow partisan perspective.
In a democracy, elections are said to be the best democratic practices. It is through election, people articulate their opinion and verdict on the national issues. If we go by the general practice, political parties and candidates, prior to the election, make their stance on certain national issues clear and present their overall policies and programmes. Eligible citizens vote to certain candidate or parties based on their views, stance, policies and programmes expressed through the election manifesto. It is through election, people, in a way, participate in the governance by electing their representatives to govern.
In this way, elections are always welcome in democratic system. Election is the system to seek people’s opinion and verdict on national politics, policies and national issues. People who believe in democracy do not and should not oppose the election. But in Nepal’s case, common sense and values hardly work, which are clearly evident in the asymmetrical views expressed by leaders and parties on the same and similar issues on different occasions. In other words, parties and leader interpret the same thing differently on different occasion to suit their personal and partisan interest. The root of all political problems that we have faced is the inconsistency of the political parties and their leaders.
The recent stance and decision of the parties on election are the clear evidence of inconsistency of parties on their stance and rhetoric. As the parties had earlier failed to agree on some key issues, the Constituent Assembly (CA) failed to deliver a new constitution. In the failure to deliver the constitution, all parties, big or small and ruling or opposition are equally responsible. None of the political parties represented in the Constituent Assembly appeared practically serious on constitution. All parties stuck to their own partisan and sectarian stance and agenda. They refused to make compromise and arrive at a middle and pragmatic ground to resolve the contentious and controversial issues. They were in the mood to let the CA die if their agendas were not accepted and incorporated. This mentality failed the CA, which ultimately saw its demise without accomplishing the mandated task.
The demise of the Constituent Assembly created a political and constitutional problem in the country. The Interim Constitution has not foreseen the failure of the Constituent Assembly and another election for the CA. The extension of the CA was the alternative way to prevent the country from sliding into constitutional crisis. But that option, too, was blocked by the verdict of the Supreme Court. In its verdict, the Supreme Court ruled that the Constituent Assembly cannot be extended for another terms. The most difficult situation surfaced in Nepal's political landscape on May 28 because neither the Constituent Assembly was able to deliver the constitution nor was there any room for the extension of the CA. Under such difficult circumstance, the government was left with no option other than announcing the fresh election.
The election was definitely not the choice of the government but compulsion. But the opposition parties mainly the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML came vehemently against the election declaration. They even threatened to boycott the election held under the government headed by Dr Baburam Bhattarai. The election announced earlier had to be cancelled in the absence of necessary legal tools. The opposition parties welcomed the decision of the Election Commission that it was unable to hold election on the announced date.
But the same parties are now raising the issue of fresh election and they have agreed for it. This is yet another example of parties’ double standard. If election was, at all, necessary, the parties should have agreed on the date already announced and all legal hurdles for election could have been sorted out on the basis of consensus among the parties. Moreover, the recent agreement on the necessity of fresh election reached among the political parties clearly indicates that the decision of the Prime Minister and the government to declare election was politically and morally correct and justified.
Then why opposition parties opposed the election until a month ago and why they have now seen the election as the only option? Firstly, parties are devoid of moral ground and political outlook. Secondly, they do not have faith on democracy and free election. They want election to be conducted by the government under their leadership. This implies that parties do not want free and fair election but to influence and manipulate the election through the misuse of power. This is the raison d’ĂȘtre behind their demand to remove the present government and form another government under their own leadership. But they should understand the fact that leadership of the government alone would not ensure victory in the election. If this was the basis for victory in the election, the Nepali Congress would have won majority in the Constituent Assembly election held four years ago because the election was held by the government headed by the Nepali Congress chief late Girija Prasad Koirala.
The logic of the Nepali Congress behind its demand to head the next election government, too, is frivolous and silly. The Congress leaders are of the view that the Nepali Congress did not get even a single chance to lead the government in the last four years whereas the UCPN-Maoist and the CPN-UML were able to lead the government twice. This logic also does not have solid ground. The leadership of the government is not something that is to be given when someone demands. But party or leaders take the leadership by proving their own worth and supremacy in the contemporary national politics. Fortunately or unfortunately, the Nepali Congress has failed to prove its worth and supremacy in the present politics of Nepal. One likes it or not, the politics of Nepal is revolving around the UCPN-Maoist. If the Congress’ logic is to be taken into consideration for leadership of the government, the Nepali Congress may still not be eligible to get this chance. This is because Nepali Congress has already led ten governments— five governments led by Girija Prasad Koirala, two by Krishna Prasad Bhattarai and three by Sher Bahadur Deuba— after the political change in 1990. CPN-UML led the three governments— one by Manmohan Adhikari, one by Madhav Nepal and one by Jhalnath Khanal. But UCPN-Maoist has got the chance of leading the government only twice—one by Puspa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ and the other one is the present government headed by Dr Baburam Bhattarai — despite being the largest political party.  By this account too, the Maoists claims to continue to lead the government is logical and has justification.

But these logics do not count much in the present difficult situation. The country is in worst political crisis in history. Under such circumstances, political parties need to be more flexible and pragmatic. If parties continue to pursue their partisan agenda, political solution can never be found which means the country would be in perpetual crisis and transition. Thus, the parties need to bury their personal and partisan agenda and interest and arrive at a compromising point to steer the country out of this protracted stalemate. The inherent spirit of the Interim Constitution is the collective approach and consensus among the parties on all issues until a constitution is written and promulgated.  People are aware of the fact that the political parties are responsible for the present protracted crisis. They are also aware that the solution should be found by political parties themselves because there is no alternative to political parties in a democracy.
But things may go wrong way if parties continue to commit mistakes and do not realize it. In such an eventuality, people may take the political parties as the root of the problems, which would be unfortunate for the country and our fledgling democracy. When people think that parties are the problems, then no one would ever know which direction the politics would go. But the way parties are behaving, it seems that the politics is slowly slipping out of their hand and control. If that is the case, it may only invite either anarchy and civil war or direct external intervention. Thus, parties need to tackle the problem before it goes beyond their control.

Nepal foreign policy and weak diplomacy


Yuba Nath Lamsal
The world is interlinked and interdependent. No single country in the world is fully self-reliant on everything.  However powerful and developed it may be, no country can survive and prosper in isolation. International links and relations are necessary not only for its own survival and security but also for overall progress and development.
This is how foreign policy was evolved. The policy that a country devises to deal with other countries or international institutions is called foreign policy. Every country has its own interests, strategy and goals and it accordingly devises foreign policy to serve its interests. Different countries have different strategy for survival and different interests with different countries. Thus, countries have their own foreign priority and perspective.
The art of pursuing the interest with other country is diplomacy through which foreign policy is conducted. Diplomacy is like an intrigued game of chessboard in which a country moves his pawn and knights in calculated manner taking into account long-term consequences. Foreign policy is the broad outline of how a country should interact and deal with other countries.
The traditional concept of foreign policy was defined and interpreted in a narrow national perspective. With the advancement of science and technology, the world has seen a sea of change in all spheres of life of any country in the world.  Traditional factors alone are not sufficient in formulating foreign policy and conduct of diplomacy in the present complicated and globalized world. Extra-territorial, regional and international dynamics play crucial role in the formulation and conduct of foreign policy. This involves psychological perception and outlook of a country to the other. This is determined by the existing geo-political realities, economic strength and potentials, trade links and volume, natural resources and, to some extent, cultural historical and political considerations.
In the present world, economic benefits and economic interests are definitely important. But they are not the sole factors and there other equally important considerations shape the foreign policy and international relations. Economic interests determine other traditional components. The security concepts have also changed in the present world. The traditional concept of security used to be superior in military security and strength.
There are number of factors that influence and determine foreign policy formulation and its conduct in a particular country. Geography, history, culture, trade, economic dynamics and value system are some of the key components that shape foreign policy of any country in the world. Foreign policy, in a way, is the quest of power in the international politics and a tool to bring back the dividend back home, no matter how detrimental it might be to other countries.
The definition of national interest is also vague and blurred in some cases. Bleeding other countries in the name of one’s own interest is the pursuit of foreign policy is what some powerful countries are doing. This tendency has come under scathing attack and criticism from the people and the critics in the world. This is more so with the big powers, which often try to impose their decisions and diktats on smaller and weaker countries. If this does not works or the weaker do not toe the line of the powerful, other coercive methods are applied so that the weaker ones would be brought to their fold and terms.
In the international power politics, big powers apply four Cs (convince, confuse, confront and conquer or control) as the method to maintain greater say, influence and control over other countries. They try to persuade or convince the other countries through various methods and approaches to ensure that the weaker countries follow their policies and path. If the efforts to convince fail, they try to confuse. A confused government or state cannot decide anything on its own, for which they need suggestion and advice from others especially the powerful ones. The dominant countries come to intervene in the internal affairs of other countries in the name of helping and advising. Should that method fail, they resort to both direct and indirect confrontation with the regimes that do not tow their line. This is how they control other countries. The case of Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya have already seen the application of this doctrine and become its victim. Iran and Syria are now feeling the heat in which external hands are more than visible.
There are some tools to apply and implement this doctrine. These tools are capital, technology and media.  The Western capitalist countries led by the United States of America have been successfully applying these tools and tactics and they have ruled the world. Capital comes to the developing countries in the form of direct investment or aid or financial transactions. Foreign assistance is the powerful tool as the donors always attack some string to it, which the recipient countries have to accept if they want aid. The financial institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund were created by the Western countries for this purpose. The other form of economic tool is foreign direct investment and trade. The western countries encourage their business persons to invest and get involved in trade or other financial transactions only in the countries where there are pro-West economic policies. The developing countries would, thus, be hard pressed to accept the conditions just to get aid and investment.
The other tool is the technology. The world has seen tremendous development in the field of science and technology. The Western capitalist countries have control over technology and the developing countries depend heavily upon the western countries for technology transfer and their use. Since the technology is in their control, the western countries control over the government of developing countries, or the developing countries are deprived of the benefit of technology.
Media has been the most effective tool for opinion building both at home and abroad. The effective and powerful media are at the hands of Western countries, which almost always follow the policies of their own government. In foreign policy and security issues, they never go against the policy of their government even if the policies are wrong.  The Western countries first use media to unleash propaganda in their own favor and against their adversaries, through which they justify their action. They not only use media not only to build international opinion, at the same time, they instigate ethnic conflict and other political and social unrest against the regime in the name of supporting democracy.
The concept of security is also changing. The traditional concept of attaining security and defending the country was solely military means. But military power alone is not sufficient to defend the country and maintain security. But the people are best defender of the country and ensure national security. However, people first feel their own security prior to national security. The country can be defended by people only when they psychologically feel secured. Psychologically unsecure and morally vulnerable people can never defend the country, however strong the military power may be. The former Soviet Union is its example because despite it having one of the strongest military force, the Soviet Union crumbled like a house cards because people lost faith on its government and leaders.
It is often said that foreign policy is the extension of domestic policy.  It is definitely true, to a large extent. The country defines its broad national interest, formulates strategy to defend its national interest and accordingly applies its tools and tactics to achieve the goals in the international arena. The national interest and goal do not change frequently and the strategy to achieve it also remains unchanged, despite change of regime at home. But tactics and tools may change depending upon the situation and context. Thus, foreign policy should not be rigid but dynamic. In such a situation, the interlocutors of foreign policy and diplomacy may have enough leeway to adopt different tactics and tools to cope with different situation.
 As far as Nepal is concerned, it has to learn lessons from our own past experiences marked by both successes and failure in foreign policy front and also the conduct of foreign policy and diplomacy by other countries. As a poor and weak country, it does not have adequate tools to act more decisively and forcefully in the international power politics because economic and military strength does not back Nepal’s diplomatic initiative. In such a situation, Nepal has to demonstrate highest level of diplomatic art and acumen in the international arena. There many international friends including some big powers which are always willing to support for Nepal’s cause in the international arena. Nepal needs to take advantage from this. But our diplomats seem to be unable to cultivate out friends and well-wishers and take maximum benefit. It exhibits either incompetence or sheer negligence on the part of our diplomats assigned in different missions abroad.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Political Uncertainty Continues

Yuba Nath Lamsal
Recently, the ceremonial President appears to be more active in our national politics. So far, he has not taken any decision but is only trying to persuade the political parties to agree on a common point for ending the political deadlock that the country has seen especially after the demise of the Constituent Assembly. In the period of one month, President Yadav has convened two all-party meetings in which he passionately called upon political parties to forge consensus on the future political course of the country. And he is in consultation with people from the cross section of society including lawyers, constitutional experts, former judges, individual leaders of political parties, rights activists and civil society members. These events have taken place every day, which have made the President virtually busy round the clock. Apparently, there should not be any objection from any section or sector on the efforts made by the President for national consensus or his meetings with the people. The Head of the State has every right to meet and share with the people.
But some may disagree with the tone and tenor with which the President has passed remarks over the national politics and activities of the political parties. According to them, it would not bode well for the ceremonial president to pass remarks on politics and criticize the political parties as the job of the ceremonial Head of the State is, as is the practice of parliamentary democracies everywhere in the world, just to attest to what the government asks and proposes.
The opinion is distinctly divided over the role, responsibility and constitutional boundary of the President. One section is of the view that President has no power and authority, in whatsoever situation, to interfere in the country’s politics under the pretext of unraveling the political and constitutional gridlock. The Interim Constitution has granted no space for the President to poke nose on political activities. According to them, the President, as per the Interim Constitution, can act only on the recommendation of the Prime Minister. Any kind of action on the part of the President without the consent and recommendation of the Prime Minister would not only violate the fundamental and inherent spirit of the Interim Constitution but would also be against the universally accepted principles of parliamentary democracy.
But there are other people who subscribe to the view that the President as the guardian of the country and patron of the constitution has bigger role in the present political vacuum. According to them, President refrains from partisan politics only when the country’s political situation is normal and smooth. In the present context when Nepal’s political situation is mired in complications and complexities marked by political constitutional vacuum, President’s role may be necessary because it is the only elected institution of the country at present. Being active in country’s affairs and being involved in partisan politics are two different things. Based on these logics, this school of thought is trying to provoke the President to get involved and interfere in the day-to-day politics, which implies that the President should remove the present Prime Minister and appoint someone else in his place. One can, now, easily imagine how and why the President is becoming more and more active and passing remarks, sometimes sharp and critical, on our national politics and political parties.
As far as the definition of political and partisan activities is concerned, the demarcation and difference between these two terminologies is very thin and blurred at the present context of Nepal. The efforts to provoke the President to intervene are clearly guided by the partisan interests of mainly two parties—the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML because the President’s move, if he at all acts, would only benefit these two parties that are doing everything to provoke the President to intervene and get involved in politics. Any kind of action on the part of the President without national consensus or without the consent of the government would definitely be interpreted as being motivated by partisan interest, irrespective of however sanctified his motives may be.
The parties that champion the parliamentary type of political system are demanding for President’s action and intervention.  Those who are opposed to parliamentary system are demanding presidential system have argued that president’s action of any kind without the prime minister’s recommendation and consent would not only be against the fundamental principle of parliamentary democracy but also set a bad precedence, which would be detrimental to democratic development in Nepal. This is a great irony of our contemporary politics. Moreover, the post of president is a highly revered and respected, which should by no means be drawn into controversy. Once drawn into political controversy, the credibility and respect that this institution commands would cease to exist for forever. The President must have been well aware of this situation and is expected to refrain from any kind of partisan misadventure in order to maintain the sanctity of the institution of presidency.
President is, of course, a guardian and his duty is to defend the constitution. But it does not mean that President alone is the defender of the constitution. Nepalese people are the genuine and bigger defender of the constitution and the country. If deemed absolutely necessary, Nepalese people would spontaneously come forward in a collective and united way to defend the constitution. Thus, the only objective of some parties and people to provoke the President to intervene is to reap political benefit, which the President must have been aware of. These parties want the President to dislodge the present Prime Minister and appoint someone else, preferably the Nepali Congress leader, in his place.  If President gets provoked and interferes in politics, there is a strong likelihood of confrontation between the president and some political forces, which may invite another round of conflict in the country.
The country is already in crisis. This situation demands wise and mature decision of political leaders and other stakeholders. Should parties and leaders fail to demonstrate maturity, the country may further slide into political crisis and complication. It seems that Nepal’s politics, so far, is power-centric. National interests and people’s concerns have hardly found space on the agenda of the political parties. The politics is slowly getting polarized due to power centric policies and attitude of our political parties.  Our political parties seem to be prepared to do anything and everything, be that moral or otherwise, legal or otherwise and constitutional or otherwise, for power. This is the fundamental reason behind the political crisis we have seen in Nepal. The attempt to provoke the President by some parties and people is also guided by this power-centric politics, which is absolutely wrong and unfair.
If the present power-centric political polarization continues to get priority, Nepal may ultimately slide into the status of a failed state. The only alternative to save the country is the broad national consensus, mutual cooperation, co-existence and understanding among the key political forces of the country.  This would alone help not only to complete the constitution writing and the peace process but also rescue the country from the quagmire of political uncertainty.
The primary requirement for consensus is the will and desire of the parties to rise above their partisan interest and power-centric politics. If they are able to shun power-centric politics, it would help make their political and positional clarity on some unsettled issues, which seems to be lacking at present. Based on the bottom-line of all parties, a middle-ground can be sought which would contribute to building national consensus. With the demise of the Constituent Assembly without delivering a constitution, peace process has derailed, which need to be brought back on tract.
National consensus is easier said than done. Given the diverse ideologies and orientation of the existing political parties, narrowing down political differences and bringing the parties into a common ground is definitely a Herculean task, for which assistance of neutral facilitators is may be required. In the case of Nepal, there is hardly anyone who can be called a neutral personality. Civil society members are supposed to be neutral, which can be often called in to facilitate the negotiation between the parties in conflict. But our civil society, too, is highly partisan and it often carries the partisan agenda, from which we cannot expect the genuine role of facilitation for national consensus. Against this background the role of the President should be to facilitate consensus but not confrontation.