Impeachment May Set Bad Precedent
With the registration of the impeachment motion against Chief Justice Sushila Karki, the nation has witnessed a sudden polariasation between those who supported the impeachment and those who are dead against it.
On this backdrop of the growing polarisation of opinion, many believe, like the main opposition CPN-UML chairman, that the ruling coalition would not be able to muster two-thirds of the House vote to pass the impeachment against the first female chief justice of the country. However, the mere registration of the motion made the first female chief justice as the first chief justice to face the impeachment motion in the annals of the Nepali judicial system.
The reaction against the impeachment motion is so wide that it has really left the ruling coalition in a spot of bother. After the impeachment motion was filed, the ruling coalition of the Maoist (Centre) and the Nepali Congress has witnessed a crisis of government's survival. The Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister Bimalendra Nidhi tendered resignation expressing his dissatisfaction over the "sudden" filing of the impeachment motion. On the other, another ruling coalition partner, the RPP, also decided to quit the government over the same, which put the government under deeper crisis. However, the crisis-hit government can take solace after the newly formed Madhesi party- the Rastriya Janata Party-Nepal- decided to throw weight behind the beleaguered government.
A large section of the society has not received the motion positively. This section contends that before bringing an impeachment motion, there must be enough evidences of wrong-doings on the part of a sitting constitutional heads. The society must be apprised of such wrong-doings in a manner that suits a democratic society and the society's consent must be taken before introducing any censure motion against them. In short, there must be a wider discussions over the issue among the political parties and their leaders, civil society, intellectuals, media and few others who are regarded the pillars of a democratic society before any consideration of impeaching a constitutional body head is made.
When it comes to the recent impeachment motions, many in the nation believe that no one should draw an analogy between the impeachment motion registered against the then anti-graft body chief Lokman Singh Karki and the Chief Justice. The anti-graft chief was accused of issuing threats to anyone he disliked through various means and there was strong opinion that went against him and a large section of the society supported the impeachment motion against him. The same is not true regarding the motion against the chief justice. She might have committed one or two wrongs, but the society was not ready to listen to any impeachment motion registered against resolute Karki whose issuance of certain verdicts have been taken in a positive way by a large section of the society. At many forums, she has tried to expose the existing barriers in delivering justice which has also exhibited her resolute postures.
In its impeachment motion, the ruling coalition has accused Chief Justice Karki of interfering in the jurisdiction of the Executive and leveled several other charges against her while filing the impeachment motion. The rival parties, several intellectuals, civil society leaders, common folks and most importantly the independent media of the nation have not buy the ruling coalition's argument and have seen the filing of the impeachment motion by the ruling coalition's 249 parliamentarians as a move to " neutralise" the determined Karki. The registration of the impeachment motion, as per the constitution, sends the constitutional body head into an automatic suspension.
In a year's time, Chief Justice Karki has exhibited, many believed, determination to issue verdicts that would supposedly go against the desires and aspirations of the ruling coalition and their hangars-on. Soon after she was suspended through the registration of the motion, she told media that the Prime Minister had sent two of his emissaries- Barshaman Pun and Narayan Kaji Shrestha to hold "dialogues". One of other leaders had even apprised her of the incoming "impeachment" motion. But the determined chief justice not only snubbed the two emissaries but also overlooked the threat of impeachment.
It is now apparent that the two ruling coalition parties were not happy with the way the Chief Justice quashed the government's appointment of new police chief. While her verdict to quash the new police chief, Jaya Bahadur Chand irked Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba, the Supreme Court's issuance of verdict to arrest the Maoist leader Bal Krishna Dhungel angered the Prime Minister.
Both leaders and their respective parties have feared that if the Supreme Court under Karki hears the case related to the appointment of police chief, the court decision may go against the government's design again. There are other pending court cases that Karki was expected to go through before she would retire in a month's time. The impeachment motion, therefore, appears to be a pre-emptive move to send the Chief Justice into suspension which would certainly put her away from taking up decision on these pending cases. Despite the coalition's pre-emptive move, the pressure on the sponsors of the impeachment motion, the Nepali Congress and the Maoist Centre at a time when the nation is bracing to hold local polls is however so huge that no one would be surprised to see the impeachment motion withdrawn in due course after Karki's present "neutralisation" through a pre-emptive move.
Many analysts do think that the present move of the ruling coalition may encourage the rival parties like UML to resort to the same tactics to foil the ruling coalition's move to place their own "men" in the constitutional or other important bodies. The UML too has enough number of parliamentarians (more than 149, which is the required one-fourth House vote to file impeachment motion against the chiefs of any constitutional bodies) that enables it to threaten any constitutional body head with the registration of impeachment motion.
Here, it is very prudent to ponder over the fact that the constitutional provision of registering impeachment motion at slightest hint of interference of jurisdiction is indeed a dangerous option that can only paralyse the nation's constitutional bodies from functioning strongly. This constitutional provision should be utilised only when there is a real threat that would undermine the principle of separation of power, or the jurisdiction of the Legislature and of the Executive by other constitutional bodies, or vice versa.
The impeachment of the chief justice has actually set a bad precedent, though the parties that brought it suggested that it was targeted only against Karki and not to whole judiciary system. The political parties must be extremely wary not to disturb the balance among the three pillars of democracy- the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary by bringing such motions targeting the heads of the constitutional body at their will whenever they see their interests being threatened.