Saturday, 24 July, 2021

Landmark Verdict

In yet another landmark verdict, the Supreme Court (SC) Monday reinstated the House of Representatives (HoR), setting a new political course of the country. President Bidya Devi Bhandari had dissolved the HoR on the recommendation of the Cabinet on May 22. This was the second time the Lower House was dissolved amidst heightened political crisis. But the five-member Constitutional bench led by Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher Rana, invalidated the decision to dissolve the House, terming it unconstitutional. The apex court has issued a mandamus order in the name of the Office of the President to appoint Sher Bahadur Deuba as new prime minister by 5pm Tuesday (July 13) as per Article 76 (5) of the constitution. The Supreme Court has also ordered to summon the meeting of HoR by 5pm of July 18. The court has concluded that Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s claim to be the new PM as per Article 76 (5) was insufficient because he had not completed the constitutional process under Article 76 (4). The SC has said that the incumbent Prime Minister cannot claim the highest executive post again under Article 76 (5).

Similarly, the court has interpreted the status of lawmakers who participate in a voting to elect a new Prime Minister under Article 76 (5). It has clarified that such lawmakers are not compelled to obey the party whip. This is new and significant explanation of Nepal’s constitution promulgated in 2015. Clause 5 of Article 76 now appears to be an ultimate safeguard to save the people’s supreme elected body from the potential dissolution. It allows lawmakers to act independently in case the political parties fail to form new government owing to the complicated composition of the parliament. In its previous verdict against the House dissolution on February 23, the court had stated that the country embraced the reformed parliamentary system that is ‘multiparty competitive federal democratic republican parliamentary governance system based on pluralism’ and this does not envision the PM’s special prerogative as practiced in traditional parliamentary system.

The verdict has also made it clear that the decisions of the President may come under judicial review if they tend to go beyond the boundary of constitution. It has dismissed the arguments of the government lawyers that the activities and decisions taken by the ceremonial President cannot be questioned in the court. The President had rejected the claims of both opposition leader Deuba and PM Oli to get appointed the new PM as per Article 76 (5) and announced mid-term polls for November. Her office said that the petitions of both claimants bore the signatures of the lawmakers from ruling CPN-UML and Janata Samajbadi Party (JSP), thus they lacked constitutional ground to be appointed as new PM.

The SC verdict has drawn different responses from various quarters but it seeks to bring the derailed constitutional course back on track and put the political uncertainty to rest. In addition to plugging the constitutional gaps, the apex court that holds the authority of interpreting the constitution gives a message that HoR must not be the victim of inter-party and intra-party feuds. Political parties should explore all options as mentioned in the constitution to form the government so as to ensure stability, development and good governance in the country.