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A Tale Of Two Parliaments



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Jiba Raj Pokharel

 The dissolution of the Lower House of Parliament on 20th December 2020 took everyone in Nepal by surprise. Earlier, the move of House dissolution that used to impact Nepali politics was completely laid to rest after the promulgation of the new constitution that turned Nepal into a federal state where once the unitary system of governance had existed. The reemergence of the move has surprised many in the country and outside. However, in many countries, parliaments are dissolved to seek a fresh mandate from the people. But sometimes, parliaments fall victims to the politicians' interest. History has an abundance of such phenomena. 

 

     Origin Of British Parliament

The genesis of the parliament can be traced back to bit earlier than the 13th century in Britain when the Kings used to consult the clergies and the nobles in what was known as the Great Councils then. It took a decisive turn during the reign of King John. Britain used to have ceaseless fights with the neighbouring France for which the King had to raise the tax. For this, King John had to take the barons in confidence without which the people would not pay it.

He unwillingly signed the Magna Carta in 1215 according to which the King could not act on his own but  had to work based on concurrence with the barons, the representative of the people. The King thus disregarded it. But it resulted in a civil war culminating into his defeat. Poor John was a glutton and died of dysentery after consuming an excess of peach and cider.

 His son Henry III also emulated his father by ignoring the barons. But he was also made to sign the provisions of Oxford superseded by the provision of Westminster. It made provision for at least three assemblies in a year. The Parliament then began to meet regularly as exemplified by six assemblies in four years beginning from 1258. This was about the time when King Abhaya Malla had died in the deadly earthquake of the year 1255 in Nepal.

 

     First Dissolution Of Parliament

Later there was a rebellion mounted by Simon de Montfort leading to a battle in which Henry III was defeated and subsequently imprisoned. In order to consolidate power, Simon called the Parliament in 1264 and he dissolved it in 1265. This is the first dissolution ever carried out in the history of parliament. But Henry managed to escape from the prison and Simon was killed in the battle. Henry summoned the parliament on three occasions even though he was averse to it in the beginning.

 

     Ups And Downs In Parliament

It was in the seventeenth century that the Kings again started taking arbitrary decisions by evading the parliament. The House of Commons submitted the petition of rights and it soured relation between then King Charles I and the people. He dissolved the parliament and ruled for a long time in its absence. But, later, he had to call the parliament to raise the tax. He thus called what is known as the Short and Long Parliaments. But the King had to confront with his critics.

The relationship deteriorated to such an extent that a war known as the first civil war ensued between Charles' Royalist army and the Parliament's New Model Army. Royalist Army faced a humiliating defeat and a rump parliament was called to try King Charles which ultimately led to his beheading in 1648. Its main architect and Army Chief Oliver Cromwell became all-powerful like Girija Prasad Koirala after the ouster of King Gyanendra. But after the death of Oliver his son Richard could not rule well and again the Kingship staged a comeback in Charles II in 1660, a year when the construction of Rani Pokhari had just been completed in Nepal.

 

     Parliament In Nepal

Following the Biratnagar Jute Mill Movement of 4th March 1947, the Rana Prime Minister Padma Shamsher had announced constitutional reforms leading to the establishment of parliamentary democracy in the nation. A three-men team led by Sri Prakash Gupta was sent by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru of India on his request. But the process was held after rather liberal Padma Shamsher was made to resign by the more aristocratic Ranas led by Mohan Shamsher.

Parliamentary democracy finally dawned in the Nepali political horizon after the success of Peoples' Revolution launched by Nepali Congress in 1950 leading to the ouster of tyrannical Rana dynasty. The charismatic Prime Minister BP Koirala formed the government with the two-thirds majority but King Mahendra nipped the democracy in the bud by imprisoning the Prime Minister, banning party polity, imposing Panchayat Democracy, dissolving the parliament and promoting himself to an absolute monarch from the constitutional one. 

Panchayat Democracy, however, breathed its last in 1990 soon after the celebration of its Silver Jubilee in 1985. A majority of the government of Nepali Congress led by Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala took to the office with the United Marxists and Leninists in the opposition. However, Koirala dissolved the house announcing mid-term polls in 1994.

A petition was filed in the Supreme Court for the reinstatement of the House but the court stayed the dissolution citing it as the constitutional prerogative of the Prime Minister. The UML became the largest party short of a majority and formed the Government in the aftermath of the midterm poll. It is Prime Minister Man Mohan Adhikari again dissolved the House but it was reinstated by the court due to its minority status in the parliament. 

Later, the Nepali Congress split into two and the leader of the splinter group  Sher Bahadur Deuba became the Prime Minister. He also dissolved the Parliament in 2002 which was later taken as a pretext for capturing power by King Gyanendra. He took recourse to an inapplicable clause 127 of the constitution which was designed to remove difficulties. The Supreme Court did not support it directly but considered it an appropriate step was taken at that moment.

A movement was launched by parties of all hues including the rebel Maoist Communist Party which led to the reinstatement of the House and the ouster of King Gyanendra. A Constituent Assembly was elected which drafted the new constitution.

The hallmarks of the new constitution were the declaration of the republic and secular Nepal along the federal line. The new constitution had virtually wished dissolution out of existence due to its abuse in the past marked by periods of uncertainty and instability.

In the election held under the federal system of governance, the two communist parties UML and Maoists joined hands with the formation of Nepal Communist Party in the election. People voted overwhelmingly giving them close to two-third of the majority to the combined outfit.  The internal infighting between the two factions led to the present dissolution.

 

     Consequences

It can thus be seen that the Parliament in both the countries- Britain and Nepal has been used as a whipping boy by the politicians. In England, the consequences have ranged from death in the battle to the public beheading of the King. In Nepal, it has fluctuated between the retention, reinstatement and the loss of 240 years old monarchy.   This time, it appears the dissolution of the House may invite movement and protests from those who have opposed the dissolution.

 

(Pokharel is former Vice Chancellor of NAST)

 

 

 

 

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