July 2023 Analysis: Domestic Politics and Governance

Posted by : Sourav Dahal


Date : 2023-07-31

July Analysis: Domestic Politics & Governance

The CPN-UML obstructed the house twice in the month of July – first against PM Dahal’s statement that a transport entrepreneur had lobbied within the Indian establishment to elect him as the Prime Minister. The CPN-UML let the house function once PM Dahal offered an apology over his statement but after a few weeks, the party obstructed the house again asking to form high-level probing committee to investigate the 100 Kilogram gold smuggle case. That aside, the Constitutional Council failed to appoint the Chief Justice within the deadline of July 5th – that is, at least a month prior to the retirement of the incumbent Chief Justice. On the other side, the Nepali Congress held the Central Committee meeting from 18th July to 26th July after a year; even though the party charter mandates that such meeting should be held at least once in two months. The meeting was over with no significant decisions but the opposing two factions of the party came face-to-fac, and criticized the other faction for the ills that the party has been grappling with of late.

Timeline of Major Events

Date Events
5th to 10th July CPN UML obstructed the lower house over PM Dahal’s statement that a transport entrepreneur had lobbied with the Indian establishment to elect him as the Prime Minister.
5th July The Constitutional Council failed to appoint the next Chief Justice of the Supreme Court within the constitutional deadline.
14th July The Supreme Court Bar Association issued a reminder notice to elect the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court without further delay.
18 July to 26th July Nepali Congress held the Central Committee meeting after a year.

Lower House Obstruction by the CPN-UML

CPN-UML, the main opposition, party obstructed the lower house twice within the span of a month. The house was first obstructed from 5th July to 10th July, as a protest against Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s remark that a transport entrepreneur, Mr. Pritam Singh, had lobbied within the Indian establishment to help elect him as the Prime Minister of Nepal.  The UML asked for resignation of the Prime Minister over the same remark, and the UML opened the way for the house to function only after PM issued an apology. Then, the CPN UML has been obstructing the house since July 26th asking the government to form a high-level probe panel to investigate over the 100-kg gold smuggling case. On 19th July, the Department of Revenue Investigation assisted by the Armed Police Force personnel had seized gold estimated to be a worth of billion rupees. Then, ten people involved in the smuggle have been arrested including a few Chinese nationals. While the investigation is being carried out by respective government agencies, the main opposition CPN-UML has demanded for a high-level probing committee. The CPN (Maoist Center) has accused the CPN-UML of trying to derail the ongoing investigation by obstructing the House with an unreasonable demand.

Frequent House Obstructions: Lack of Parliamentary Culture

Ever since the restoration of the multiparty democracy in 1990, the CPN-UML has shown tendencies to obstruct the House frequently when in the opposition. The CPN-UML holds the record of obstructing the house frequently, and for the longest period in Nepal’s parliamentary history. This shows that the party lacks parliamentary culture – and doesn’t play the role of a responsible opposition within the parliament. A responsible opposition is highly essential for the legislative to function smoothly. The role of the opposition is to scrutinize the works of the government, voice the concerns of the general public and bring in light the weaknesses and shortcomings of the government within the parliament but the party resorts to a cheap tactic of obstructing the House to score political points and have its demands met. Perhaps, obstructing the house enables the party to bargain with the government to have its interest met – and in this case of gold smuggling, the demand of the party has raised doubts if any leaders are involved in the same. The reported cases of smuggling are quite high in number and the nature of the 100-kg gold smuggle case suggest that the smuggles can’t materialize without political involvement. The CPN UML now obstructing the house in demand of a high-level probing committee, which essentially means that the party gets to have a say in the formation of the probing committee and in doing so, could influence over the investigation process. When party top leader KP Sharma Oli was heading the government in 2018, another case of gold smuggling was exposed, and the government had formed a “high-level probing committee but the committee had failed to complete the full investigation within the deadline, the government hadn’t further extended the period, the committee then submitted the incomplete report but no actions have been taken even as five years have already passed. Now that the CPN-UML is asking for a “high-level probing committee” even in this case and some have raised doubts over the party’s intention – and rightly so given the unsatisfactory role of such a committee in the recent past.

That aside, the frequent house obstruction shows that political parties, that too prominent ones, are yet to internalize democratic practises, and abide by democratic norms. While CPN-UML is the one that obstructs the house the most, other parties too have resorted to this cheap tactic quite often which is against the spirit of parliamentary democracy. This proclivity has not just hampered the smooth functioning of the parliament, and state mechanisms but has also hindered the institutionalization of democratic norms and procedures.

Judiciary in Yet Another Crisis

According the constitution, the successor the chief justice is to be nominated at least a month prior to the retirement; the current chief justice is retiring on August 5 which means the new chief justice appointee should have been selected by July 5 – which wasn’t to be. The prime minister-led Constitutional Council which is mandated by the constitution to select the Chief Justice is yet to hold the meeting for the same. On July 14th the Supreme Court Bar Association issued a reminder notice to the authority concerned to be mindful of the constitutional provisions while nominating the chief of the judiciary. The council would recommend Mr. Bishowamber Prasad Shrestha, if it doesn’t breach the seniority but the appointed one would have to face the parliamentary hearing. Not just the appointment of the new Chief Justice, but there have been delays in other appointments too – in the supreme court, six posts of judges remain vacant while 47 posts of judges in the high courts and 37 in district courts.

The delay in appointment of these justices have impacted the normal functioning of the courts – there is an increment in pending cases, and delay in the process of justice delivery Further, delay in appointment of the Chief Justice and other justices of the supreme court can impact efficiency of the government – as cases involving constitutional ambiguity and/or constitutional breach could get postponed. Several other constitutional proceedings, and normal functioning of the court are impacted; and the appointment of the justices in the apex court, high courts and district courts are also delayed. Even last year, the judiciary was thrown into crisis after the lawmakers of the ruling coalition had filed an impeachment motion against the erstwhile Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher Rana in February 2022 but the impeachment motion was put on hold indefinitely and Mr. Rana retired before the impeachment motion was proceeded in the parliament. The constitution has assigned some important authority to the Chief Justice, and they also serve as a member of the Constitutional Council. It is imperative that the government now prioritizes the appointment of the Chief Justice with no further delay to uphold the principle of justice and the rule of law.

Nepali Congress’ Internal Turmoil Continues

The Nepali Congress held the central committee meeting from July 18th and July 26th. The party charter mandates that the meeting be held at least once in two months but the meeting wasn’t held for almost a year. This time round, the meeting was broadcasted live for the first time ever, and the ongoing rift between two opposing factions got exposed but the meeting was over with no important decisions/achievements. The two general secretaries – Mr. Gagan Kumar Thapa and Mr. Biswo Prakash Sharma, who are now leading the opposition faction, further upped their ante against the establishment faction. The two general secretaries had launched “Nepali Congress Reformation Campaign”; and held programs all over the nation against Mr. Deuba’s incompetence, his inability to rebrand the party to appeal the young constituencies and for failing to deliver, in general, within and beyond the party. However, two secretaries also faced heavy criticism in the meeting with allegations that they were simply opposing Mr. Deuba to rise up in the political rank and their opposition against the establishment faction meant nothing more than mere power politics at play. Some leaders of the Deuba faction also defended Mr. Bal Krishna Khand – who is in a judicial custody after being implicated in the Fake Bhutanese Refugee Scam – and reiterated support for Mr. Deuba’s decision to not take action against him or other leaders implicated in the corruption scandal before the final verdict of the court. The defence of those implicated in the scam was criticized by the opposition faction – and it also drew flak in media, social media and from public in general. That the party and some influential leaders chose to defend Mr. Khand is reflective of the fact that the political parties and leaders are deeply involved in the systemic corruption, and there remains a tendency to provide political protection to those implicated in serious offences, like that of corruption and abuse of authority.

The internal turmoil within the Nepali Congress has intensified after the November 2022 polls in which the party, although managed to emerge as the largest one, had performed below expectations despite contesting the election in collaboration with as many as six parties. Added, the new alternative parties pulled off a surprise electoral results posing further challenge to the mainstream political parties, particularly, the Nepali Congress – a mass-based party with similar electoral base to that of the alternative ones. The growing anti-incumbency wave, and the party’s inability to adapt to the changing circumstances has alarmed the second and lower-rung leaders within the party who sense a credible electoral threat from the new parties in the next election cycle. This was further exacerbated by the Fake Bhutanese Refugee Scam in which the senior leaders of the party were implicated but the party failed to take action against them. Then, the opposition faction has been putting stiff opposition against the top Mr Deuba, and the opposition against him and his faction is only likely to grow further.
In a broader picture, the ongoing tussle within the Nepali Congress reflects the changing political landscape of the nation, and its impact over the mainstream parties – in which second and lower rung leaders who are for changes in the way the party functions so as to adapt the parties to changing circumstances are against the top-tier leaders who are reaping benefits from the status-quo.