Averting Catastrophe Through Reconciliation
Dr. Narad Bharadwaj
The nature of political power is such that it creates condition for its own difficulties. With the levers of power securely in its hands, it begins to misuse it to monopolise resources and centralise authority to meet narrow partisan interests. It starts to violate the principle of separation of power and incurs retaliation from other organs of state eventually losing control and clout. The dramatic turn which Nepalese politics has taken following the registration of the impeachment motion on April 30 against Chief Justice Sushila Karki shows that the coalition government has set off the process of its undoing.
The slipshod manner in which the impeachment motion has been brought against the Chief Justice shows that the government is functioning without any sense of priority and focus. It shows that it is more interested in creating subservient institutions rather than helping them to unleash their initiatives to dispense the rule of law.
The motion of impeachment against the Chief Justice came at a time when it was least expected. It was so sudden that people now feel that the coalition government takes action on the spur of the moment without gauzing public sentiment and without bothering to weigh out the consequences of its actions. The previous track record of the coalition indulging in adventurism and backing out in the face of opposition vindicates that it has a penchant for biting more than it can chew.
The coalition government is beset with enormous problems and has tremendous challenges ahead. But instead of narrowing the circle of enemies and expanding the networks of allies as a strategic way of dealing with complex situation, it is widening the circle of enemies, setting the organs of state against each other and is hitting out at all directions. As if the numerous battle fronts engaging its attention and resources were not enough, it has opened a new theatre of war with the judiciary which appears fraught with severe consequences.
The filing of the impeachment motion is being viewed as a conspiratorial step resorted to for the purpose of subverting the election. It was an undemocratic move taken to undermine the principle of the separation of power. It was brought against the mass sentiment. That was the reason why it drew a spontaneous opposition from the people from all sectors of the society.
The coalition government has violated the established parliamentary norms governing the impeachment motions. Generally, when the situation of moving impeachment arises, a public debate is started on the issue to create a broad consensus on the motion. But the present coalition government introduced the motion in a way enemy forces are ambushed in wars taking everyone by surprise.
The impeachment motion has pushed the government in an awkward situation for lack of convincing reasons for using such a drastic measure against the head of the judiciary. The motion has been brought on the basis of falsehood and distortion of facts.
It was brought when there were no accusations against her, nor were there any public furore against any judicial verdict passed by her. Instead, the Chief Justice was at the height of her popularity and some of the decisions made by the Supreme Court under her leadership had inspired hope among the people that the judiciary would take concrete steps to end the state of impunity in the country.
As the first woman justice of the country, the Chief Justice symbolised woman power and was being acclaimed at home and abroad as an icon of inclusive representation of women in the highest constitutional bodies. In view of the wave of popularity which the Chief Justice was riding on, the impeachment motion would look an inconceivable proposition.
Anyone following the sequence of political events can see that both of the coalition partners were angry with the Supreme Court because of its two landmark decisions. The verdict of the Supreme Court to annul the appointment of Jay Bahadur Chand to the post of the Inspector General of Police had irked NC president Sher Bahadur Deuba as it had hurt his hubris. Another coalition partner CPN (MC) took the Supreme Court’s order to arrest and imprison Bal Krishna Dhungel within a week as a setback in its attempt to win blanket impunity for those involved in the war era crimes. There appears a kind of consensus among the coalition partners to bring down the stature of the Supreme Court which was emerging as a threat to the exercise of arbitrary power by the Executive.
The irresponsible way with which the coalition government moved the impeachment shows that the coalition government is moving along the path of authoritarianism refusing to abide by democratic norms and values of parliamentary politics. It has drawn ignominy for its act of intimidating and frightening the Supreme Court in the hope that it does not dare to openly challenge the executive in its decision. The case of impeachment is unsustainable and is motivated by a desire to remove all barriers to the exercise of absolute power. As an expert of constitutional law puts it, “This is politically motivated and is an organised threat against the judiciary’s independence.”
The supporters of the impeachment motion are saying that the Supreme Court has violated the prerogative of the parliament and has further aggravated the situation by serving a stay order against the impeachment motion paving the way for suspended Chief Justice to return to her duties ‘with immediate effect’.
At a time when the environment was being built up for leading the nation to the election after a hiatus of about twenty years, the impeachment motion has come as an attempt to deflect the country’s politics to the path of chaos and conflict.
Instead of realising the egregious mistake committed by moving impeachment motion without any public mandate, the coalition government is trying to justify its moves by drawing parallel with the impeachment motion moved against Lokman Singh Karki, former chief of Commission for the Investigation against the Abuse of Authority (CIAA). However, it appears oblivious of the fact that the impeachment against the former Chief of the CIAA had come in the wake of public uproar against his authoritarian way of using the anti-corruption body to weaken democratic institutions. There was sufficient consensus among political parties on the need of moving impeachment motion against him.
The case of the Chief Justice Sushila Karki is starkly different than that of the Chief of the CIAA. There were no sustainable charges against her, and the main opposition party and many other fringe parties are against it. The previous impeachment was moved with serious intention to endorse it by two thirds majority, but this motion is designed only to humiliate her and to prevent her from dispensing justice. Now the whole nation has stood by her side and she has started to dispense justice on the basis of judicial intervention. This has put the executive in a fix proving that the constitutional organs of the state cannot afford to lock horns in a futile battle for supremacy.
The situation of standoff does not appear likely to end soon unless it dawns on the top leaders of the ruling coalition that in democracy the three organs of the state cannot afford to lock horns in a futile battle for supremacy.
The people feel that the unnecessary activism of the executive against the judiciary is the reflection of the desire of the parties in power to institutionalise impunity, quell the voices against their tendency to use unconstitutional, illegitimate and arbitrary authority in the guise of democracy. The judicial intervention to declare impeachment motion null and void shows that no organ of state should try to arrogate more power than defined by the constitution. The political situation is fast slipping out of hand, and the only way left open for the ruling coalition is to withdraw the impeachment motion paving way for reconciliation with the judiciary.