Throughout the month of September, the five-party ruling alliance struggled to reach a consensus on seat sharing for the first-past-the-post (FPTP) polls for the upcoming federal and provincial elections. That aside, the upper house of the parliament followed the suit of the lower house in endorsing the Amendment Bill to the Citizenship Act 2006 without incorporating any suggestions of the President. The President, however, didn’t authenticate the bill and then the Supreme Court issued a show-cause notice against her. The Impeachment Recommendation Committee recommended proceeding with the impeachment motion against Chief Justice Cholendra Shumser Rana but now that the tenure of the lower house has already ended, the motion is bound to remain in limbo at least until the new lower house convenes after the November polls.
Timeline of Major Events
|3 September||National Assembly endorsed the Citizenship Amendment Bill again with no changes at all.|
|17 September||Impeachment Recommendation Committee recommended impeaching Rana.|
|19 September||Political parties submitted the Proportional Representation List to the Election Commission.|
|20 September||President Bidya Devi Bhandari missed the deadline to authenticate the Citizenship Amendment Bill.|
|25 September||The Supreme Court issued a show-cause notice against President Bidhya Devi Bhandari for not authenticating the citizenship amendment bill.|
Parties of the ruling coalition struggle to strike a deal on seat sharing
In August, the ruling coalition had set up an 11-member task force to find a framework for sharing seats in the upcoming federal and provincial elections. The task force had decided upon the four criteria of seat sharing. Throughout September, efforts were made over the month to settle the remaining differences – however, that wasn’t to be. The consensus remained elusive, interparty and intraparty rivalry within the ruling coalition intensified; and in the process, the leaders even exchanged barbs
While there remains a broad agreement on four criteria, each party is striving to ensure a maximum number of seats for itself. The Nepali Congress has remained adamant that the vote share of the local polls should be the primary basis upon which parties could share the seats – and has demanded a hundred seats in its share out of hundred and sixty-five FTTP seats of the federal parliament. The rest of the parties have proposed that the vote share of the 2017 federal and provincial elections instead should be the basis for seat-sharing. This is because the Nepali Congress had emerged as the largest party in the 2022 local polls while it had performed dismally in the 2017 elections. The Maoist Center has asked for sixty FTTP seats, the Unified Socialist forty, Janata Samajwadi thirty-two and the Rashtriya Janamorcha two seats.
The ruling coalition has met numerous challenges in materializing electoral alliance because reaching a consensus on seat-sharing of a hundred and sixty-five seats between five different parties is in itself a herculean task. Even if parties contest elections on their own, internal management of aspiring candidates is difficult, as there are a large number of aspirants vying for a limited number of seats. With a coalition of five parties now in place, a consensus has to be reached for a single candidate in each constituency from an even larger pool of aspirants. It is, therefore, that the electoral coalition has also intensified intra-party tension – particularly within the Nepali Congress. The faction led by Shekar Koirala organized a “warning program” to warn the establishment of the party not to budge from a hundred-seat demand, and within that provide at least forty seats to the Koirala-led faction. On the opposition front, there have been talks between the CPN UML and Loktantrik Samajwadi Party Nepal to join hands for the polls; however, no concrete decisions are reached yet.
While coalition governments have been around ever since the restoration of the multiparty democracy in 1990, of late, electoral alliances have also become a new reality in Nepal’s politics. Changing political landscape and the new electoral system have made electoral coalitions more of a necessity than a choice. It is difficult for a party to gain a majority on its own – and therefore parties are going to lengths in forming electoral coalitions even if it means joining hands with rival parties of conflicting ideologies and contrasting voter bases.
President Bhandari’s Partisan Proclivities Continue
President Bidya Devi Bhandari missed the deadline of September 20 to authenticate the Amendment Bill to the Citizenship Act 2006. On September 3, the upper house of the parliament followed the suit of the lower house and endorsed the Citizenship Amendment Bill again with no changes at all. President Bidya Devi Bhandari had returned the Citizenship Amendment Bill back to the parliament for a review enlisting fifteen different concerns/suggestions on August 14.
The president has the prerogative to return the bills passed by both the houses back to the parliament for a review once, but once the parliament sends back the bill after deliberation over the suggestions with or without any making any changes recommended by the President, the President is then under the constitutional obligation to authenticate the bill within 15 days. In failing to authenticate the bill, President Bhandari has violated the constitutional provisions. Five major writ petitions were filed asking for Supreme Court’s intervention in the matter – and on September 15, the Supreme Court issued a show-cause notice against the President.
President Bhandari’s move seems politically motivated with an intention of weaponizing the amendment bill to facilitate her former party CPN UML in the upcoming provincial and federal polls. The amendment bill has long been dragged into controversy – and attempts have been made mainly by the main opposition CPN UML to make it a major electoral agenda by framing the bill as an issue concerning nationality and sovereignty. With the ruling alliance joining hands for the polls, the electoral prospects of the CPN UML have weakened – and the party was in a search of a sellable electoral agenda. The CPN UML has now labelled the ruling alliance as “anti-nationalist” citing some provisions of the amendment bill with an ulterior motive of cashing electoral success in the forthcoming polls. President Bhandari has sought to blow this issue out of proportion by not authenticating the bill – and in doing so, has buttressed her former party’s effort. The motive is also evident from the fact that when the erstwhile KP Sharma Oli-led government had brought an ordinance with similar provisions, President had shown no reluctance in endorsing it.
The Constitution of Nepal 2015 envisions President as the protector and patron of the constitution; however, President Bhandari has failed to even live up to the bare minimum standards of being non-partisan. In these formative days of Nepal’s republican system, it is imperative that the President set up a culture – that of strictly abiding by the constitution – to establish the institution of the Presidency as a cherished one within the system. However, President Bhandari’s proclivities over her two-time tenure have tainted the institution of the Presidency with partisan stains, and have served to reduce public confidence and trust in the system as a whole.
Crisis in Judiciary Prolongs
On September 17, the Impeachment Recommendation Committee submitted its report to the speaker of the Lower House Agni Prasad Sapkota with a conclusion that there are ample grounds to impeach Chief Justice Rana. Those opposition members in the committee, however, registered an eight-point note of dissent against the recommendation to impeach Rana. While quizzed, Chief Justice Rana defended himself with a claim that he hasn’t committed any wrongdoings whatsoever. Rana rather pointed fingers with incendiary remarks against political leaders, particularly that of the ruling alliance, along with other judges, advocates, media and business houses – and accused that all those who are for impeaching him have been responsible for plaguing the judicial system of the country.
The Impeachment Recommendation Committee submitted its report just a few hours before the five-year tenure of the lower house ended. Now that the tenure of the lower house is over, further proceedings of the impeachment motion can’t be undertaken. This has prolonged the months-long judicial crisis at least until the new lower house resumes after the federal polls slated for this November. This reflects brazen irresponsibility on the part of the ruling alliance – particularly the Deuba-led government as it is now clear that the government wants to keep the impeachment motion in limbo until the tenure of Chief Justice Rana gets over. On the other side, there has been some legal confusion – if or not the impeachment is rendered null and void now that the tenure of the lower house is over. Seizing upon this, Chief Justice Rana made attempts to return back to the Supreme Court and resume his duty. The face-off between the government and suspended Chief Justice Rana escalated to the point that Chief Rana wasn’t allowed to leave his official residence for a few days to stop him from “unconstitutionally” resuming his role. The impeachment motion against the Chief Justice is a matter of utmost importance and the only responsible move of the government would have been to prioritize accordingly. In keeping the impeachment in limbo for months, the Deuba-led government too has played an equal role, if not more, in further exacerbating the already-existing judicial crisis.