Short-sighted ploy: Move to impeach Nepal Chief Justice is a setback

The move to impeach the Chief Justice is a setback to the separation of powers in Nepal

By launching impeachment proceedings in Parliament against Supreme Court Chief Justice Sushila Karki, the ruling coalition government in Nepal has ignited yet another crisis at an already fraught political moment — before the scheduled local polls later this month. The proximate reasons for the motion of impeachment relate to the Chief Justice’s decision to set aside the appointment of a police chief by the government over the issue of seniority and to recommend the elevation of another claimant. The two biggest parties in the coalition, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist-Centre) led by Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal and the Nepali Congress of Sher Bahadur Deuba, have accused her of interfering with executive powers. However, the timing of the motion and its implications, with the judge due to retire in a month’s time, suggest a narrow-minded political strategy. Since the motion was signed by more than one-fourth of the members of the legislature, Justice Karki was suspended immediately under a constitutional provision that has been misused by the CPN(M-C) and the Nepali Congress. She is seen by Nepal’s civil society as being fairly independent-minded in a judiciary that is politicised. The Maoists were upset by a recent court decision to reject clemency for a Maoist leader convicted for a murder committed during the civil war. Mr. Deuba reportedly feared being hauled up on contempt charges, which could have made his elevation to the post of Prime Minister difficult. The government’s initiation of impeachment proceedings over a debatable issue of judicial overreach and for such expedient reasons threatens the separation of powers in the fledgling republic.

The impeachment proceedings have political consequences as well. One of the alliance partners, the Rastriya Prajatantra Party, has decided to withdraw support to the coalition, making the ruling arrangement more fragile. Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister Bimalendra Nidhi, also of the Nepali Congress, has resigned in protest against the motion. With the government unable to rope in the opposition led by the CPN (Unified Marxist-Leninist) to agree to amendments in the Constitution that will address the concerns of Madhesi parties over a federal redrawing of boundaries, the prospects of smooth conduct of local body elections were already dim. The tussle with the judiciary and the frivolous use of impeachment makes any understanding with the opposition prior to the elections even more unlikely. If local elections are not held in May as scheduled, it will also make it difficult for sets of constitutionally mandated parliamentary elections to be held by the January 2018 deadline. All said, the action of impeachment of a serving Chief Justice is yet another indictment of the Nepali political class, which needs to rise above petty and narrow interests after its momentous achievement of overturning the monarchy a decade ago.

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