When public trust in the organs of the state erodes, the country is bound to face various kinds of chaos and aberrations. When trust in the judiciary falls, the entire justice system risks becoming dysfunctional, creating a situation of mass pessimism, one major cause that could even lead to state failure. Some recent turn of events shows that Nepal is heading towards that direction.
The fresh case in point is the recent media reports of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court demanding spoils in the cabinet. If true, it is glaring evidence of collusion between two major state organs–the judiciary and the executive–for the accumulation of powers in the hands of a few. It has been reported that the Chief Justice wants a couple of his men to be appointed ministers in the government. This has not only shaken the root of the principle of the separation of powers but also raised the question on the future of Nepal’s democracy and the entire justice system. The reports have raised some serious questions that remain unanswered: What deal was made between the Prime Minister and the Chief Justice to share benefits? Why did Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, the president of the only ‘democratic party of the country,’ agree to share the power? What’s the secret deal, if any? We would like to believe this collusion is untrue. Even so, people deserve to know the truth, more than just the refutation for the sake of formality.
It is unfortunate that even as the reports of the Chief Justice demanding ‘share’ in cabinet and PM Deuba tacitly agreeing to that demand have made the headlines, our politicians and majority of civil society members have chosen to remain silent. Why have none of the politicians demanded an open and transparent investigation, including possible impeachment of the CJ, if proven guilty? Why have politicians in Nepali Congress and other political parties not challenged the Prime Minister to clarify the issue? It is curious and surprising that there is no anger inside the members of the political fraternity. How could they consciously ignore such a sensitive issue?
This is not just about giving a couple of ministerial portfolios to certain people. This incident will have a direct bearing on our political system and the future of democracy. The principle of separation of powers is not a mere truism in democracy; it means a lot for the well-functioning of the system as well as well-being of the people. When the framers of the constitution enshrined this provision, they were probably aware of the fallouts when this principle is breached. We have now become the witness of how all three pillars of our political system and the institutions are eroding bit by bit. Unless the conscience keepers from the political parties, civil society, intellectuals, and people rage against it, it might be too late before the worst comes.
It has been reported that Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, rather than explicitly saying ‘no’ to such an illegitimate and immoral demand, is ready to capitulate. In fact, the Supreme Court Chief Justice demanding spoils in the cabinet has been seen as one of the factors behind the unnatural delay and inefficiency of the Prime Minister to give full shape to the cabinet he is presiding over since July 13.
It is unfortunate that even as the reports of the Chief Justice demanding ‘share’ in cabinet and PM Deuba tacitly agreeing to that demand have made the headlines, our politicians and majority of civil society members have chosen to remain silent.
Judiciary impinging on the rights and powers of the executive and the executive actors trying to influence the judiciary probably has its roots in the infamous incident of collective failure of the political parties to choose the person to lead the country as the PM. In 2013, when the political parties agreed to elevate the sitting Chief Justice of the Supreme Court to the post of the PM, this not only ripped the fundamentals of the checks and balances but also set a dangerous precedent that the Judiciary too can become the alternative of the political parties in government formation. The 2013 incident was a collective failure on the part of our political elites. If the same political actors had any conscience and morality they should have already retired by now. Unfortunately, those same lot of leaders are still in power—still without any qualities that would redeem their repeated failures.
Today, when the chief of the judiciary allegedly demands certain quotas in the cabinet, no political leaders, neither from the ruling nor from the opposition parties, have spoken out against it. This ‘power-sharing’ between the politicians is so entrenched in the system that none of them appear to have the required morality to question each other. This is the tragedy that will be recorded in the history of Nepal as the outcome of the utter failure of the political parties to keep the system on track.
Troublingly, this kind of ugly connivance is not limited to the executive. The sovereign parliament, where the pressing concerns of the people and the national interests of the country should be discussed and debated, has been held hostage by the main opposition, CPN-UML. While UML has been obstructing the House proceedings for nearly a month, the government has also failed to give business to the parliament.
The erosion we see today in major organs of the state—the legislative, the executive, and the judiciary—will lead to an unimaginable disaster if we cannot check it on time. It does not take long for the whole edifice to crumble when we take away its props, little by little, one by one. The collusion and connivance to derail the political system will threaten our democracy and the entire political system. It is getting late for the conscience keepers inside the political parties, civil society, intelligentsia, and the media to rage against this deliberate attempt to bring decadence to the political system. Let’s start by speaking out against this open, ugly connivance between the judiciary and the head of the executive. We have many other anomalies to the system to expose and much greater responsibility to hold the political actors to account.