Judiciary is reasserting itself, pushing political parties towards accountability.
It’s still unclear whether the judiciary is trying to assert its independence and uphold constitutionalism. But the people of Nepal are either indifferent or rejoicing that the parties are being made to be accountable.
By Yubaraj Ghimire
Despite the oft-repeated, collective pledges from Nepal’s political leaders, for nine years, that they would establish constitutional order and democracy, they pursued the politics and policies of “fundamentalism”, showing a high degree of intolerance towards due process and dissenting views. Any deal among the top leaders who were party to the movement against then King Gyanendra, would almost always become binding on the Constituent Assembly (CA), which would adopt the diktat without debate. These politicians often tried to bring the judiciary, including the Supreme Court (SC), under their influence.
However, the SC doesn’t seem to be in any mood to accept indirect accountability to parliament any more. It protested against the CA’s move to have a permanent parliamentary body to monitor judges’ conduct and initiate action on complaints, as well as the provision for impeachment in the constitution. The SC, in the last nine years, has acted under constant fear of being branded “regressive and reactionary” by the forces that had come to monopolise power. With those political forces now divided, the apex court seems to be asserting itself a little, trying to regain its independence. Two of its recent judgments have brought the parties, determined to deliver the constitution disregarding due process, to a fierce confrontation — something not witnessed before.
Four parties — the Nepali Congress, Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML), Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M) and the Loktantrik forum — signed a 16-point deal two weeks ago, charting out a “super fast-track” approach to delivering the constitution. Under this, while the constitution will be delivered by July 15, contentious issues like the demarcation and naming of provinces will be left to a yet-to-be-formed federal commission, and state assemblies will be elected only after that.
A single bench of the SC said last week that the constitution has to be a comprehensive functional document, implying that the issue of federalism must be settled and incorporated in it. The judgment may have made Prime Minister Sushil Koirala personally happy, since he was otherwise to step down on July 15 and make way for the UML’s K.P. Oli. While the judgment exposes the shallowness of the parties signing the deal, in a show of tactical solidarity, Koirala hosted a meeting of four party leaders and decided to “defy” the judgment, asserting that the verdict was not going to affect the pace and date of constitution-delivery.
The judgment has come as a shot in the arm for the Madhesi parties that had raised the question of federalism soon after the movement against Gyanendra began. Mahanth Thakur, a crusader for federalism and Madhesi rights, said, “We may even quit the CA if a constitution without federalism is delivered.”
Last week, another verdict, from two judges, including Chief Justice Ram Kumar Prasad Shah, declared that government appropriation of the property given by Gyanendra to his daughter Prerana, as part of her wedding gift, was illegal. The judgment asked the trust that holds the former crown property to return it. Koirala’s government, supported by the Maoists, had “confiscated” all royal property, including that in Gyanendra and his family’s private possession, denying inheritance rights without any investigation on the property’s status and source. This was the first case filed against it.
It’s still unclear whether the judiciary is trying to assert its independence and uphold constitutionalism. But the people of Nepal are either indifferent or rejoicing that the parties are being made to be accountable. A retired chief justice said, “King Gyanendra executed the SC order dismissing a royal commission into high-level corruption when he had appropriated all powers within five hours, but this democratic regime says they will not accept the court’s verdict.” That is the state of democracy in Nepal.
Courtesy: The Indian Express