Updated: July 13, 2021 1:33:34 am
IN a verdict with far-reaching Constitutional implications, Nepal’s Supreme Court Monday re-instated its Parliament which was dissolved in May by President Bidya Devi Bhandari on the advice of caretaker Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli and directed her to appoint Oli’s rival Sher Bahadur Deuba as the new Prime Minister by Tuesday.
A five-member Constitution bench of Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher Rana, and judges Deepak Karki, Meera Khadka, Ananda Mohan Bhattarai and Ishwar Khadka, held the dissolution of Parliament and the appointment of Oli as Prime Minister unconstitutional.
Bhandari had dissolved the 275-member lower house for the second time in five months on May 22 after Oli’s recommendation — when he failed to get a majority — and announced snap elections for November 12 and November 19. With this verdict, these polls also stand cancelled.
Altogether, 146 MPs from the Nepali Congress; Nepal Communist Party-Maoist Centre, a faction of the Oli-led Nepal Communist Party-Unified Marxist Leninist; and the Janata Samajwadi Party had filed a joint petition seeking annulment of Oli’s appointment as PM arguing that Bhandari had ignored their written support to Deuba.
On May 10, Oli lost his vote of confidence in Parliament, 93-124. He was given another chance by Bhandari three days later — ostensibly since he was the leader of the largest party under Article 76(3) of the Constitution — to prove his majority within a month on the floor of the House.
But Oli made a public declaration a week later saying the chances of his securing a majority were very remote and so “an alternative” should be explored.
Taking the cue, Bhandari sought the claim of “deserving” candidates. But in a move that raised eyebrows, she chose Oli over Deuba.
While Oli claimed the support of 153 MPs based on letters from multiple parties, Deuba collected signatures of individual MPs.
Bhandari, however, rejected Deuba’s claim and, subsequently, she accepted Oli’s recommendation for dissolution of Parliament in the midnight of May 22-23 before appointing him PM until elections which were, simultaneously, announced for November.
In an effective indictment of both Bhandari and Oli, the court’s 167-page judgment said a President does not have absolute “discretionary” powers on issues clearly laid out in the Constitution.
It also upheld the right of individual MPs to go against the party whip and listen to their conscience. The bench underlined that democracies are ruled by Constitutional supremacy implying that the President’s prerogative can’t over-ride that principle.
The bench showed its displeasure for the second dissolution of Parliament despite the fact that it had reinstated the House dissolved earlier on December 20 by Oli. “This was a dissolution full of lapse, and cannot be condoned the day it happened,” the court said.
As per court directives, Deuba, 74, who has been Prime Minister thrice, is likely to be sworn in tomorrow, and the re-instated House will hold its session by July 18. Currently, Deuba is Leader of Opposition in the House.
Nepal plunged into a political crisis December 20 last year after Bhandari dissolved the House and announced fresh elections on April 30 and May 10 at Oli’s recommendation amid a power tussle within the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP).
On February 23, the apex court reinstated the dissolved House.Oli, currently heading a minority government, has often defended his move to dissolve the House saying some leaders of his party were attempting to form a “parallel government”.
He was elected in early 2018 as head of an alliance with the Maoist Centre, a group of former Maoist rebels with a two-thirds majority in the House. He earned a nationalist’s image when he opposed India following a border blockade for over four months from September 2015.
Oli promised a regime with “zero tolerance to corruption” and committed to development, including building waterways connecting to India. But he failed to deliver – this dented his image and credibility.
Infighting led to the Maoist Centre breaking away from the alliance. Also, a powerful faction led by former Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal rebelled within the UML challenging what it called Oli’s dictatorial style.
With today’s order clearing the stage for Deuba’s takeover, Nepal is likely to enter an unstable phase of coalition rule. Besides the 61 members of the Deuba-led Nepali Congress, the Pushpa Kamal Dahal-led Maoist Centre has 42 members. Twenty six dissidents from UML and about a dozen members of the Upendra Yadav-Baburam Bhattarai led faction of the Janata Samajbadi Party have supported Deuba, but it is not clear whether UML dissidents will join the coalition.
An evening meeting of these groups discussed challenges the coalition government will face until it can prove its majority within a month.
There are signs that Oli’s supporters may not accept the SC verdict in a hurry. In Kathmandu and western Nepal’s Butwal city, the youth wing of his party held protests.
“We are also contemplating moving an impeachment motion against Chief Justice Rana,” said a senior leader from the Oli faction. Deuba was more circumspect. “I welcome the SC verdict, but request every one not to take it as a personal victory or defeat.”
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