The Supreme Court has invalidated at least five decisions of the government: What is the message?

Representational Image.

Nishan Khatiwada

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Kathmandu: The recent verdicts by the Supreme Court against the moves of the government should not be construed as the defeat of Prime Minister K P Oli. Rather, they should be interpreted as constitutionalism prevailing over the waywardness of the executive head. PM Oli has time and again defied the constitutional values, the Supreme Court has checked him. 

Government decides, court overrules

In recent months, the Supreme Court has invalidated a number of steps and decisions of K P Sharma Oli’s government. Here is a list of the government’s decisions and Supreme Court verdicts.

  • On December 20, 2020, Prime Minister Oli dissolved the House of Representatives and announced mid-term polls for April and May this year.  The Supreme Court overruled this decision. On February 23, 2021, the court termed the House dissolution an unconstitutional move and reinstated the House.
  • Early this month, the government changed the criteria for appointing ambassadors, allowing even those with lower academic qualification than bachelor’s degree to become eligible for appointment. Evidently, this was done with the objective of appointing political cadres as ambassadors. On June 18, the Supreme Court quashed this decision too.
  • After dissolving the House for the second time in May, PM Oli, now in caretaker status, expanded the cabinet. On June 22, the Supreme Court declared cabinet expansion unconstitutional, thereby dismissing 20 ministers including two deputy prime ministers from the cabinet. Now, only five ministers are left in the cabinet. 

What’s the message?

The court verdicts have been interpreted as a big blow to Prime Minister Oli and his government.  But experts say that this should be understood as the victory of the constitution reflecting independence of judiciary and the system of check and balance.

The court verdicts have been interpreted as a big blow to Prime Minister Oli and his government. But experts say that this should be understood as the victory of the constitution reflecting independence of judiciary and the system of check and balance.

The Supreme Court verdicts carry immense significance as our federal republic is in the nascent stage and each and every decision made by the judiciary will set a precedent for the future. The verdicts also send the message of warning to every other politician that when they come to power they should abide by the constitution and their unconstitutional moves will be checked by the judiciary. Another message is that the ultimate authority to check invalid political and unconstitutional actions lies with the judiciary. 

Experts speak

‘The ultimate interpreter of the constitution is the Supreme Court. Its main job is to assess and examine whether the leaders entrusted with executing the constitution are doing their job constitutionally,” said  Tara Nath Dahal, press freedom fighter and political observer. The verdicts mean that the court checked the unconstitutional moves of KP Oli, it is nobody’s victory, nobody’s loss, he added. 

Tara Nath Dahal, press freedom fighter and political observer

He argues that by declaring unconstitutional moves as  unconstitutional, the Supreme Court has strengthened constitutionalism. “The provisions interpreted by the political leaders in their own way  are now being corrected by the apex court,” he said.  According to him, it will help deter the leaders from doing what they please. “It will help set a good precedent for the future,” he said.

Bhimarjun Acharya, constitutional expert, said the Supreme Court could not have approved the unconstitutional decisions of the government.

Bhimarjun Acharya, constitutional expert

“In that regard, we have to consider them as a positive approach of the apex court because neither the supreme court nor the government is above the constitution,” he said. 

According to Acharya, the verdicts send the message that the Supreme Court stands for law and constitution. “The court is acting in an unbiased way on political cases. That’s positive,” he said. 

Semanta Dahal, a lawyer and researcher, agrees that the court verdicts should be interpreted as the decisions taken based on the constitution. “Positively, these verdicts indicate that the decisions of the executive regarding appointment of ministers can be assessed, analyzed and checked by the court any time,” he said. 

Semanta Dahal, lawyer and researcher

Semanta Dahal, however, has a caveat. “These are only interim verdicts, so the precedent to be established depends on whether the Court stays stable or not until the final verdicts,” he said.

“To establish a real precedent, the court should stay stable until the final verdicts,” echoed Acharya. 

“Let’s not jump to the conclusion as yet. Cases related to the Constitutional Council have yet to be brought to the discussions in the court. Let’s not miss this while being positive,” said Semanta Dahal.