Even as the Supreme Court case of Prime Minister KP Oli’s dissolution of a prorogued House of Representatives is sub judice, a dangerous narrative around its reinstatement is being built.
Leaders and parties, flouting legal standards and propriety, are brazenly declaring what the Supreme Court should decide. KP Oli has spoken as if his House dissolution precludes reinstatement via the court, declaring it “a political matter, not a legal one”, as if politics does not fall under law. He shockingly requested the Supreme Court to revoke the case altogether. His opposition in the NCP, Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Madhav Kumar Nepal, and others, say they are confident the judges will reinstate the parliament. Voices inside the opposition party, the Nepali Congress say the same thing. The media, too, have joined the fray as they extrapolate what taking a stance on the issue, or not, means politically.
But is it right for them, or anyone, to flout legal norms and profess what the result ought to be, directly trying to influence the court? Sub judice means: under judicial consideration and therefore prohibited from public discussion elsewhere. Yet, amazingly, senior leaders and parliamentarians who are direct party to the case, cannot help but chime in on what the verdict should be. It is a sad state of affairs when leaders unwittingly reveal themselves as uneducated or, at the least, aware but uncaring. It is sad when we cannot expect our current lot of leaders to respect separation of powers, and the Supreme Court. Concurrently, talk shows in media invite a series of political/legal guests and unfailingly ask, “What should the Supreme Court do? How should they decide? What do you think will happen?”
Sadder still, some politicians are arguing that not recommending what the Supreme Court should do is itself an attack on and a betrayal of democracy. The irony! Since the Supreme Court is the core pillar of government, journalists and political leaders should show they understand this—namely, the significance of its independence from outside influence.
Experienced political leaders show no restraint as they directly attempt to influence the court. Nepali Congress senior leader Ram Chandra Paudel, while acknowledging that the case is sub judice, shockingly professed: “The court should be directly told to reinstate the House”. His reasoning: as the Nepali Congress is a party to the case, it should keep up its advocacy until the final verdict. He seems to interpret “under judicial consideration” as meaning “under party consideration”. One of the senior-most leaders in politics today does not even understand what is legal and yet he vows to protect the constitution and the system. This may be excusable for the public-at-large, but not for someone at his level.
One’s stance on this has also become a political football. As Nepali Congress’ Paudel, General Secretary Shashank Koirala and other prominent party leaders hold meetings “discussing whether NC should make House reinstatement its bottom line”, another Party President contestant, Dr. Shekhar Koirala, has said “the House must be reinstated” and that “elections are not possible”. Current Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba is one leader maintaining silence on how the Supreme Court ought to do decide. Credit to him.
Yet journalists and party rivals interpret this as Deuba being close to PM Oli. Dr. Koirala has again termed Deuba’s refrain as a “show of confusion” and labelled it as “excusing the court”. Either he does not know that keeping mum on this matter is correct, or he is pretending he does not. All this while Deuba announced mass protests against what he labels Oli’s unconstitutional and undemocratic actions, declaring Oli is an authoritarian, while also casting doubts on Oli’s sincerity about timely elections. While Nepal’s political stability, as it awaits the court verdict, hangs in the balance, Nepali Congress leaders are using this as a political football ahead of the next party election.
These irresponsible declarations from leaders are also helping the formation of media echo chambers; its bass tone sounding: “not demanding reinstatement of the House means you are with KP Oli.” It looks like the media largely agree on this point. When leaders are irresponsible, the media should take note and criticize the leaders who are trying to influence the court. Instead, the media too have become megaphones for certain politicians.
This is an outright disappointment.
The media are an integral and absolutely indispensable part of the state. In democracies they are known as the Fourth Estate in recognition of their political power, and that power has to be used responsibly. Right now, many pillars of the state, unbeknownst to themselves, hack away at the branches they stand on. The other pillars being the Legislators (Parliament), the Executive (the Prime Minister’s Office) and the Judiciary (the Supreme Court). But here is the point: the importance of not influencing the court’s decisions is no small matter; it is at the heart of the separation of powers—the independence of the court.
If they allow themselves to be megaphones for politicians attempting to influence the court verdicts, while also serving as platforms for backhanded politics, they will undermine the force of the final verdict. Legal doubt is a long shadow that stretches over politics: when the court loses its legitimacy over suspicions of influence. Yet, the media, the prime minister, and both legislating and non-legislating politicians are all impeding the legal process.
The nation can no longer trust Oli to fulfill the responsibility of his post. He has cratered our democracy with political havoc and indecent rhetoric. Similarly, but perhaps to a lesser extent, legislators and other political leaders act unaware of simple legal manners as they posture, and the press follow the same posturing and overstep lines of journalistic training and integrity. No one seems aware of the rules that are vital for the wheels of a functioning democracy to keep turning.
It is a hypocrisy to stand atop the platforms of democracy and undermine its functioning. And if, halfway into the tenure of the first government after the promulgation of a hard-fought constitution, we reveal ourselves as a nation of jokers who do not know what they are doing, then, perhaps democracy is too high an expectation? Currently the PM, the legislators and other politicians as well as the media are all playing their part in casting doubt on the new political system’s future.