Two weeks ago, the Supreme Court of Nepal pulled the country back from the brink when it deemed unconstitutional Prime Minister KP Oli’s decision to dissolve the federal lower house. Now it has undone that historic decision by dissolving the merger between the erstwhile CPN-UML and CPN (Maoist Center), by going beyond its jurisdiction. The forced unravelling of the communist merger could have all kinds of unforeseen consequences, most of them undesirable.
Nepalis were buoyed by the apex court ruling reinstating the dissolved house, forestalling a constitutional vacuum. They applauded the judiciary which, despite pressure from the executive, had stood its ground: they were reassured that at least one state organ was politically unsullied and functioning in line with democratic norms.
No more. There is hardly a lawyer or constitutional expert who thinks the apex court made a sound decision this time. The overwhelming view among the legal community is that the court went beyond its jurisdiction in ruling the communist merger illegal, when all that it had been asked to do was decide if the name Nepal Communist Party (NCP) belonged to one Rishiram Kattel, and if the unified communist party jointly led by Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal had unjustly appropriated it.
In these troubled times when the executive has lost its mandate and the legislative has been in limbo, the apex court had the all-important role of keeping alive the flames of democracy. But its questionable verdict will add to public skepticism, not just of the judiciary but of the whole democratic apparatus. The verdict also opens up a political can of worms. The ruling is sure to be challenged. Erstwhile leaders UML leaders Jhalanath Khanal and Madhav Kumar Nepal have said they will return to the UML fold. There are also ex-Maoist leaders in Oli’s UML. Their fate is unclear. Nor is that of the Speaker of the House as well as those appointed to the National Assembly, the federal upper house.
Worse, if all the important decisions the NCP took are to be rendered invalid retrospectively, as now seems possible, just about everything the party-led government did over the past three years would be open to questioning. It will also set a dangerous precedent of largely political questions being settled by the judiciary.