This month, the government announced federal and provincial elections for November 20, 2022. The ruling coalition set up a task force to decide on seat-sharing between the five parties. The CPN Maoist Center and CPN Unified Socialist decided to contest the election with a single manifesto – while Baburam Bhattarai and Bamdev Gautam agreed with CPN Maoist Center to share the latter’s election symbol. Election talks aside, President Bidya Devi Bhandari returned the Citizenship Amendment Bill to the parliament for review but the lower house endorsed the bill again without any changes, and the upper house is still holding deliberations over it. The Parliament Secretariat forwarded the impeachment motion against Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher Rana to the Impeachment Recommendation Committee after six months of its registration, and the committee quizzed Chief Justice Rana over the allegations.
Timeline of major events
|August 4||The government announced federal and provincial elections for November 20.|
|August 5||The ruling coalition set up an 11-member task force to find out a framework for sharing seats in the upcoming federal and provincial elections.|
|August 7||The Parliament Secretariat forwarded the impeachment motion against Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher Rana to the Impeachment Recommendation Committee.|
|August 14||President Bidya Devi Bhandari returned the Citizenship Amendment Bill back to the parliament for review.|
|August 18||The Lower House endorsed the Citizenship Amendment Bill without making any changes.|
|August 22||CPN Maoist Center and CPN Unified Socialist decided to contest the election with the same election manifesto.|
|August 31||Impeachment Recommendation Committee quizzed Chief Justice Cholendra Sumsher Rana.|
Upcoming Elections and Electoral Coalitions
On August 4, the government announced to hold the general and provincial elections on November 20. And then immediately a day after, on August 5, the ruling coalition set up an 11-member task force to find out a framework for sharing seats in the upcoming federal and provincial elections. The task force consisted of three members from the Nepali Congress, and two each from the rest of the five-party alliance. On August 15, the task force reached a consensus on four criteria for seat sharing: (i) FPTP seats won in the 2017 elections, (ii) PR seats won in the 2017 elections, (iii) performance in last May’s local election, and (iv) priority to top leaders of the parties. Later, it was decided that the main decisions of seat-sharing were to be finalized not by the task force but rather by the top leaders themselves. As of now, the Nepali Congress is bargaining for a hundred seats, the Maoist Center sixty, the Unified Socialist forty, Janata Samajwadi thirty-two and the Rashtriya Janamorcha two seats. It is expected that the consensus will be eventually reached such that the Nepali Congress will field around eighty-five to ninety candidates, CPN Maoist Center around fifty, CPN Unified Socialist fifteen, People’s Socialist Party fifteen and CPN Jana Morcha one candidate.
Now that the ruling alliance has almost agreed on seat-sharing, the month-long speculations regarding the reconfiguration of alliances for the upcoming polls have almost come to an end. The communist coalition including the CPN UML had been making buzz around for months – particularly because in 2017, the CPN Maoist Center had eventually joined hands with the CPN UML for the federal and provincial elections after forging an electoral coalition with Nepali Congress for the local polls. This time around, the communist forces and the Nepali Congress are plunging into the election together – despite the odds that the communist coalition could have easily translated into electoral success compared to this alliance of ruling parties with conflicting ideologies and contrasting voter bases.
The coalition marks a continuation of the electoral alliance formed for the local polls held last May. While the Nepali Congress and the CPN Maoist Center had ripped off the maximum benefit of the electoral coalition, other parties hadn’t benefited in equal proportion. This time around, both the Nepali Congress and the communist parties of the alliance have formed a strategy to carve out maximum benefit from the electoral collaboration. The Nepali Congress has aimed at emerging as the clear winner with a margin such that the nearest rival would remain far off in total seats won while the rest of the parties are making attempts to collectively put leverage upon the Nepal Congress to ensure a maximum number of seats for themselves. To this end, the communist parties of the ruling alliance also formed a Socialist Center last month. On 22 August, two main parties of the Socialist Center – the CPN Maoist Center and the CPN Unified Socialist decided to contest the election with a single manifesto. Further, Baburam Bhattarai who recently split the People’s Socialist Party to form Nepal Socialist Party and Bamdev Gautam, who has been on a mission to unite communist forces, have reached an agreement with the Maoist Center to contest the election under the symbol of the CPN Maoist Center.
The electoral coalition however is likely to intensify the intraparty feuds within the big parties of the alliance, particularly the Nepali Congress and the CPN Maoist Center. Even if parties weren’t to form an electoral coalition, internal management of aspirant candidates would be a challenge because a large number of leaders is vying to contest elections from each constituency. With the electoral coalition now in place, there has to be an inter-party consensus candidate from an even larger set of aspirants. The intraparty tension, regarding the same, is already rife within Nepali Congress. The Shekhar Koirala faction which has remained against electoral coalitions has now upped its ante against the establishment faction of the party.This is to ensure that as many leaders from the faction are ensured with the election tickets. The case is similar to the rest of the parties of the ruling alliance.
While the talks of an opposition coalition between the CPN UML, Kamal Thapa-led Rashtriya Prajatantra Party and the rest have been making rounds – there hasn’t been any concrete development yet.
President’s Partisan Proclivity in the Citizenship Act 2006 Amendment Bill
President Bidya Devi Bhandari, on August 14, returned the Citizenship Act 2006 Amendment Bill back to the parliament for a review enlisting fifteen different concerns/suggestions on the 15th day she received it from the Speaker. The bill which was endorsed by both the houses was sent to the Sheetal Niwas for authentication on July 31. However, on 18 August, the lower house endorsed the bill again without making any changes whatsoever. The President has the prerogative of returning the bill back to the parliament for review but if the upper house also chooses not to make further changes to it following the suit of the lower house, the President then will have no other constitutional option other than to authenticate the bill as it is.
President Bhandari’s move to send back the amendment bill was a constitutional one, nevertheless, it has attracted controversy – and rightly so. This is because President has resorted to partisan proclivities time and again. For instance – while the erstwhile PM KP Sharma Oli dissolved the lower house twice unconstitutionally, President Bhandari had gone to length in facilitating those unconstitutional moves and later she had even made attempts to prevent the split of the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) which was formed with the unification of the CPN UML and the CPN Maoist Center. Even in this case of the amendment bill, President Bhandari’s position resembles close to that of the CPN UML – the party she belonged to before her ascendency to the role of president.
It is also reported that President Bhandari took advice from unauthorized people regarding the amendment bill– the constitution clearly states that the Attorney General and the cabinet ministers are the ones that the President has to rely on for advice. Further, once the lower house endorsed the bill again making no changes, President then met with retired and incumbent army officials including the chief of Army staff Prabhu Ram Sharma. This flurry of consultations with unauthorized people and army officials isn’t in line with the decorum that the President is supposed to maintain. When President Bhandari has no alternative but to authenticate the bill once the parliament holds deliberations over her suggestions and chooses either or not to make any further changes – barring her resignation from the post – the prudent course of action on her part would have been to avoid such controversial meetups. On the contrary, President Bhandari’s heightened activism – seemingly in preparation to not authenticate the bill– marks yet another partisan proclivity among numerous in her two-time tenure.
Impeachment Motion against the Chief Justice
On August 7, the Parliament Secretariat forwarded the impeachment motion against Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher Rana to the Impeachment Recommendation Committee after six months of its registration. Chief Justice Rana has been in suspension after lawmakers of the ruling coalition filed an impeachment motion on February 13 charging him with twenty-one different allegations. On March 15, the Deuba government had abruptly decided to prorogue the winter session of the parliament just a day before the House was supposed to hold deliberations over the impeachment motion. Ever since then, the impeachment motion has been in limbo and the judicial crisis has been prolonged for months.
This delay reflects irresponsibility on the part of the government and the ruling coalition. It is imperative that impeachment against the Chief Justice be prioritized and parliamentary decision over it be sought promptly – which was not to be. Now that the Impeachment Recommendation Committee has already quizzed Chief Justice Rana on August 31st, and has proposed the deadline of September 14 to review the impeachment motion, Judiciary can be expected to get the much-needed relief soon.