The Politics Of Impeachment
The series of political developments that occurred recently have brought sheer differences between the three organs of the state: judiciary, executive, and legislative. In a surprising turn of events, 249 lawmakers from the Nepali Congress and the Maoist Center filed an impeachment motion against Chief Justice Sushila Karki. The lawmakers questioned Karki’s efficiency in delivering justice and alleged for developing her own coterie.
Surprisingly, the Supreme Court found no merit behind the impeachment motion and reinstated her. This has certainly brought conflict between the judiciary and the parliament. This is, however, not the first time that a tussle between the three organs of the state has come into fore. Nepalese witnessed the conflict between the judiciary, the parliament and the executive in 1995 when CPN (UML) tried to file a motion to impeach then Supreme Court Chief Justice Bishwonath Upadhaya. Speaker of the parliament at the time Ram Chandra Poudel had rejected the impeachment without taking it to debate. The recent impeachment motion, for its part, comes just within six months after the Chief of the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) was removed from the constitutional post. With regard to the impeachment and subsequent restoration of Chief Justice Sushila Karki – the society at large seems to be divided.
This and the previous incidents, therefore, raise questions on the very nature of political culture that we are adhering to. The tendency of either supporting or not supporting the impeachment motion seems to be related entirely with benefit and loss theory, that is to say, those who benefit from it supported and those who lose did not.
This being said what is sure for now is that all these developments have brought about new challenges for the already troubled politics of Nepal. The conflict between the executive, the legislative, and the judiciary in post-conflict countries like Nepal is undoubtedly not a good sign to institutionalise democracy for the reason that it poses threat, first, on the principle of separation of power. Second, when the organs of the state are being used to defend individual interests by those who are in the power, it ultimately erodes the trust of people, both on the state institutions and the democratic system. Also, at a time when the country is in the phase of implementing a new constitution these kinds of events from the political parties and the state organs put question marks on their role in creating a stable society.
Moreover, such episodes cannot only lead to severe political and constitutional deadlock but also dismantle the entire system of checks and balance ultimately leading to the collapse the democratic system.
Having said this, it is important to delve into what are the reasons that lead to such a disorder? What makes the constitutional posts in transitional countries like Nepal susceptible to impeachment time and again? What needs to be done to avoid similar incidents in the future? What appears in the context of Nepal is that in practice our state institutions largely appear to be in the grip of politicians and the political parties always try to rule over the state institutions.
Although there has been a lot of hue and cry both in favour and against the impeachment motion and also the decision of the Supreme Court, but we cannot completely undermine the prominence of impeachment motion. The constitutional provisions garner the right to register an impeachment motion against officials holding a constitutional position on the ground of failing to perform duty effectively or of working against the constitution or seriously violating their code of conduct provided it is approved by one fourth of the members of the parliament.
When the organisations of the states are engaged in undermining one at the cost of other, it would certainly threaten the liberties and the well-being of the society at large. It appears that the recent moves are nothing, but a power struggle between the political leaders by (mis)using organs of the state. The move to impeach the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court has been taken forth by the political parties either to fulfill their certain vested interest or to avoid possible legal scrutiny against them.
This, therefore, clearly lacks solid ground, smells of reprisal and is a strong example of political wrangle. This also passes a wrong message that the political parties can huddle against anyone and use impeachment as an instrument to fulfill their vested interest.
On the other hand, the judicial decision to reinstate Chief Justice further erodes the constitutional supremacy of the parliament. The political parties appear to have theoretically followed the constitutional provisions while registering the motion against the Chief Justice, but the decision of the Supreme Court to overrule the motion of the Parliament appears to have underrated the notion of separation of power. This has given rise to an open conflict between the organs of the state and if the conflict between these state organs deepens it could severely weaken the already fragile institutions of Nepal.
Lack of political culture
The crux of the problem in Nepali politics, therefore, is that it is not necessarily process-oriented, rather, it gives too much focus on the individual interests. If we look at the preceding political events or even the movements most of them are designed to fulfill the interests of certain individuals or political parties for that matter. Of late, the tendency of allotting public posts on the basis of political ‘Bhagbanda’ has battered both the politics and bureaucracy in Nepal. The politics here only works for those who could develop their relations with the power holders. At the same time, it has become difficult for bureaucrats to actually take off his/her ‘political shoes’ before and even after assuming public posts. And in this entire muddle, rather than trying to build strong institutions we are engaged in dismantling ones that were being built by the earlier regimes. Under such a state of affairs, democracy does not necessarily become reality. This political culture has been going for a long period of time and has to be changed for good reasons. Therefore, it is high time that we kept our judiciary away from politics and politics away from judiciary and invent a culture where both can work together without interfering in each others sphere of work.
The author teaches at the Department of Conflict, Peace and Development Studies, Tribhuvan University.