These are nearly hopeless times. Our lives have been thrown asunder by the Covid-19 pandemic and the ensuing economic and health crises. Perhaps millions of Nepalis have lost their jobs or are making do with a fraction of their pre-Covid pay. There is uncertainty and misgivings about vaccines: are all the real and rumored side-effects worth the trouble? In these otherwise gloomy times, the Supreme Court verdict on the evening of Feb 23 restoring the dissolved lower house of the federal parliament provides a rare ray of hope.
The verdict suggests at least one of the three main organs of the state is still functional and above partisanship. More than that, the verdict has prevented the country from plunging into a serious constitutional crisis. Had the apex court vetted the decision to dissolve the parliament on dubious constitutional grounds, the country’s rulers would have been given a carte blanche to abuse the national charter; and the barely five-year-old constitution would have lost most of its legitimacy.
The current government has done precious little to institutionalize federalism, the bedrock of the new constitution. Instead, the focus has been on centralizing powers by impinging on the jurisdictions of provincial and local-level governments. Appointments to top constitutional bodies were made arbitrarily. A culture of demonizing political opponents was recklessly promoted. Meanwhile, civil liberties were progressively curtailed. Things only got worse without a parliament to check government excesses.
The Supreme Court has put the derailed political and democratic process back on track. The five judges who issued the verdict on Feb 23 must be lauded for upholding rule of law. But wasn’t it their job? It was. Yet their brave, principled stand must be lauded in these partisan times when nearly every state organ has been thoroughly politicized.
Due process must now be restored and the next course of action left to the sovereign parliament. We already hear rumors of dirty horse-trading as the jockeying to form the next government has started. Complicating the picture will be the uncertainty of the NCP’s status as a single party. Yet we can all take heart from the restoration of Nepali people’s supreme representative body, and from the message that no one, however powerful, is above the law.