Sunday, 17 January, 2021

Nepalis Still Awaiting Political Stability

Aashish Mishra

In a parliamentary democracy, the parliament is often the only institution keeping the country a democracy. People do not directly elect the head of government. The head of state is often a monarch or a ceremonial president. Indeed, the country’s only claim to democracy comes from the legislators, who are elected to be the people’s representatives in the state. These legislators are expected to act as an extension of their voters in everything they do, including but not limited to, drafting laws, debating issues of national importance and making or breaking governments.
That is why it is a big deal when parliaments are dissolved before the end of their term. Dissolving parliament means dissolving the only directly-elected entity present at the national level. This doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be done. Parliaments are fallible. They can very easily become a slave to mathematics and fall victim to majority-minority politics. Sometimes, dissolving parliament is the only way to give the country a safe exit out of an undesirable situation. But that takes nothing away from the fact that dismissing parliament means intentionally removing the public from the system of governance. Dissolution is the nuclear option in a democracy that must only be used in the most extreme of cases.
At the same time though, we must all acknowledge that dissolution is not inherently bad. They lead to elections which are always good because they give people a chance to express their will. They get to bring those they like and throw out those they don’t. In fact, one could argue that dissolutions, followed by elections, are the best way for a government to decide its fate; giving the citizens a say rather than engaging in closed-door dealings and secretive agreements.
But, regardless of the pros and cons, the dissolution of parliament and everything theretofore and thereafter is guided by the constitution. And in Nepal’s case, the constitution has drastically limited the Prime Minister’s capability to dissolve the House of Representatives. On Wednesday, Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher JBR stated that the provision to dissolve the parliament was related to Article 76 Clause 7 of the constitution. Going by the official English translation as presented by the Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs, this clause states, “In cases where the Prime Minister appointed under clause (5) fails to obtain a vote of confidence or the Prime Minister cannot be appointed, the President shall, on recommendation of the Prime Minister, dissolve the House of Representatives and appoint a date of election so that the election to another House of Representatives is completed within six months.” None of these conditions applies to the current Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli and hence, those who oppose him argue that he had no right to recommend to the President to dissolve the House. Now, discussing these issues here wouldn’t yield much because the Constitutional Bench is the authority to interpret the clause and decide on the matter, not us.
However, what is worth discussing is how the current dissolution looks to the citizens who after all are the ultimate source of legitimacy for the system. To those on the outside, the dissolution sends the message the executive can dismiss a legislative that is hostile towards it. It looks like supposedly self-explanatory provisions of the constitution, written by not one but two constituent assemblies which themselves were a product of nearly 60 years of public struggle, are open to interpretation for current and future leaders. It shows that even a government holding an almost two-thirds majority in parliament can be weakened by party and faction. Most of all, it appears that even after two people’s movements, a decade-long internal conflict and countless sacrifices, the Nepali people’s wait for stability is still not over. 

How do you feel after reading this news?