In a landmark verdict for Nepal’s judicial and political history, the Supreme Court on Monday reinstated the House of Representatives that was dissolved by President Bidya Devi Bhandari on Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli’s recommendation on May 21. This is the second time the court has overturned house dissolution in about seven months.
The Supreme Court verdict on Monday not only reinstated the House calling the dissolution “unconstitutional”, but it also issued a mandamus order to appoint Nepali Congress (NC) President Sher Bahadur Deuba Prime Minister within two days.
The Supreme Court has also defined the provisions of Article 76 (5) by clarifying that lawmakers can use their own discretion to form a new government as per Article 76 (5) and they don’t necessarily have to follow the whip of the party. In this sense, the court has also set a new precedent for the political parties not to go for House dissolution without exhausting the constitutional provisions of forming the new government from the sovereign parliament elected by the people. This is a triumph of constitutional democracy and it should be treated as such by all concerned.
At a time when people are getting increasingly disenchanted with the political class, the new government that will be formed shortly must ensure that not all is over and that there is hope on the horizon.
Predictably, the UML leaders close to K P Sharma Oli have refused to accept the Court verdict. They have defined the Court verdict as an attempt to rupture the principles of separation of powers. This falls in line with a tendency among Nepali political parties to welcome and oppose the court verdict as per their political convenience. There is nothing unnatural about it. But, to be fair, Prime Minister Oli is himself responsible for the situation whereby the Court had to decide on the matter of government formation. Earlier, the Supreme Court on February 23 had quashed Oli’s December 20 move of dissolving the House without letting the House to exercise the constitutionally guaranteed provisions to form the alternative government. PM Oli repeated the same mistake on May 21. Thus, in a way, Monday’s court verdict was a foregone conclusion.
It should be noted that the government to be formed under Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba has a tall order to fill. First of all, the Congress-led government has to present itself as an accountable regime, which the Oli government had failed to become, despite enjoying huge public support initially, and the support from parliament, including from the opposition Nepali Congress. Congress government won’t have a smooth sailing because Oli and his faction, angered by the Court verdict, could go to any extent to create hurdles. Already they have announced to stage protests against the Court verdict. Besides, some of the leaders close to Oli have indicated that they would resort to reversing secularism and federalism—two of the fundamental features of the constitution. They look prepared to launch protests on anti-federalism and anti-secularism plank. The Congress government will have to stand firm to safeguard the constitution and its hard-earned gains. Nepali Congress will succeed a regime that was widely criticized for flouting constitutional and democratic norms and values—the main reason why the government that initially enjoyed the widespread support in parliament as well by the people became so unpopular within a span of three years. The Congress-led government will have to heavily guard itself from committing similar mistakes. Most important of all, the new government will have to prove itself with credible action plans to vaccinate the people and save their lives from the Covid-19 pandemic, including from the much-feared third wave or even fourth wave.
History will judge the government of KP Oli as a regime that mishandled governance and breached constitutionalism and democracy. History has also created an opportunity, and challenges, for the government to be formed under Sher Bahadur Deuba to prove itself as a regime that cares about people’s wellbeing, good governance and rule of law. At a time when people are getting increasingly disenchanted with the political class, the new government that will be formed shortly must ensure that not all is over and that there is hope on the horizon.