Sunday, 25 February, 2024

Court Steps In To Save Parliament

Court Steps In To Save Parliament

Ritu Raj Subedi

Before leaving his official residence at Baluwatar, former prime minister KP Sharma Oli accused the Supreme Court (SC) of dismissing him from premiership. Using his oratory skill, he said: “I have janaadesh (people’s mandate) to govern the country but I have to leave office owing to the court’s parmadesh (mandamus).” Prima facie, his remark appears true but it glosses over many opposite truths that have roiled the contemporary Nepali politics for the last couple of years. The House of Representatives (HoR) is the supreme people’s elected body that reflects people’s aspirations and concerns. It embodies janaadesh and people’s inherent sovereignty vested in it through their elected deputies. How can our ex-PM boast of very janaadesh when he tried to strangle the parliament not once but twice?
By dissolving the Lower House twice, Oli, also the chairman of CPN-UML, has knowingly or unknowingly caused damage to Nepali constitution, federal republican system and communist movement for which he claims to have spent more than five decades. Elected in 2017, the current legislature-parliament has the strength to steer the nation on the robust path of socialism, an original aspiration of Nepal Communist Party (NCP) established in 1949. The communist forces command near two-thirds majority in the historic legislature that has the onus to implement the progressive constitution promulgated in 2015. It resembles the resounding electoral success of UML that has 123 lawmakers in 275-member Lower House. It is the UML, not the Nepal Congress or CPN-Maoist Centre, that suffered the big setback when the HoR was dissolved. With the disbanding of UML-dominated parliament, the dreams and desires of hundreds of thousands of UML cadres and foot soldiers have been trampled down. This has utterly shaken their belief for even after mustering almost two-thirds majority in the parliament, their party has failed to deliver stability and prosperity to the nation.

Source of legitimacy
The parliament is the legitimate source of powers of government and political parties. It is the highest democratic institution to raise people’s voice and address their concerns. It ensures required credibility and legitimacy for the government while dealing with the neighbours, friendly nations and international community. History is a witness to the fact that Nepal has plunged into autocracy and reeled from prolonged instability whenever the parliament met an untimely demise. This has held back Nepal’s modernisation process and democratic restructuring of society for decades. NCP founding general secretary Pushpa Lal Shrestha had understood the democratic potency of the parliament better than any other of his contemporaries. NCP had only four members in the first parliament of Nepal but when king Mahendra dissolved it through his coup d’état in 1960, Pushpa Lal was on the forefront to demand its restoration without any condition. The visionary communist leader was aware that it was only by way of the parliament Nepali people could exercise their sovereignty, defend national interest and institutionalise democracy.
Nepal’s parliaments elected in 1959, 1991 and 2017 came into existence following the historic democratic revolutions but when the then rulers – elected or hereditary – killed or tried to kill them, the new constitutions have collapsed and drastic changes were disrupted, forcing the society to fall back into regression. The decimation of 1959 parliament paved the way for the king to impose party-less Panchayat system that lasted for 30 years. The dissolution of parliament by the then prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala in 1994 led to the derailment of constitution of 1990, breeding the ground for prolonged instability and ruthless Maoist insurgency. Although the Supreme Court has recently reinstated the HoR, the dissolutions have destabilised government, weakened the consolidation of republican system, split the CPN and ignited endless bickering in the UML and Janata Samajbadi Party (JSP).
In the early 1990s, charismatic leader late Madan Bhandari, who was also the general secretary of UML, succeeded to popularise communism in Nepal by embracing the fundamentals of liberal democracy - competitive multiparty system, periodic election, independent judiciary, press freedom, rule of law and human rights. He reposed greater faith in parliament, stating that the communists should prove their merit and superiority through their participation in elections.
But Oli, who claims to be a true disciple of Pushpa Lal and Madan Bhandari, has unwittingly reneged on their principle and conviction by dissolving the House that holds sufficient mandate to execute the nation-building vision of these two great communists. It is quite puzzling as to what motivated Oli to dissolve the HoR twice - was it just out of his impulsive decision prompted by the intra- party conflict or outsiders’ design to finish constitution and communist movement in Nepal? This question does not only perplex the minds of the students of political science but will also continue to haunt the UML leaders and workers for decades.

From the very outset, the Oli government had shown haughty disdain for parliament. Despite having enormous mandate in the House, it was afraid of debating vital Bills related to media, Guthi, citizenship, civil services, etc. in the parliament. The government prepared the Bills without broadly consulting the concerned stakeholders. As a result, it drew ire from the political parties, civil society, media and even the international community. It is a big irony that the strong government could not get any important Bills through parliament during its three-year stay in office, which raised questions about its ability to take the legislature into confidence and govern the nation efficiently.
The bigger paradox was that the Oli administration resorted to ordinances and often dodged the parliament to sail past major legal and constitutional hurdles. The Supreme Court quashed most of its ordinances, citing that they went against the constitution’s provisions and broader public interest. As the HoR was dissolved before allowing it to complete remaining nearly two-year term, the government’s democratic credibility took a tailspin. At the end of the day, the apex court showed its audacity to check Oli’s ‘authoritarian impulses’ and bring the derailed constitution back on track. The Supreme Court has once again proved that it functions as the last pillar of democracy - if other pillars tumble down, it stands there to rescue the parliament and protect the constitution.

(Deputy Executive Editor of The Rising Nepal, Subedi writes regularly on politics, foreign affairs and other contemporary issues.