The debased politics of bargaining

Kamal Dev Bhattarai

Kamal Dev Bhattarai

The debased politics of bargaining

The political parties were indifferent to the crisis in the judiciary, all the while looking to exploit it for vested interest. They got to do so on February 13

On February 13, 98 lawmakers from the ruling parties registered an impeachment motion against Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher Rana. The sudden move smacked of political opportunism. 

The judiciary had been in crisis for the past five months. The political parties were indifferent, all the while looking to exploit the crisis for their vested interest. They got to do so on February 13.

The impeachment motion was registered just before the hearing of a case against 14 lawmakers of CPN (Unified Socialist), a ruling coalition partner. The main opposition, CPN-UML, had filed a case questioning the legitimacy of the lawmakers who were expelled from the mother party.

The ruling coalition wants the Supreme Court to decide in its favor. If the court scraps the status of 14 lawmakers, there will be questions over the legitimacy of the incumbent government.

Similarly, ruling parties want to overturn the judicial appointments of KP Oli-led government while the UML’s case against Speaker Agni Sapkota is also under deliberation.

That the impeachment motion was registered against Rana to influence these court cases is clear enough, say observers.

For the impeachment motion to clear through parliament, it must have the support of two-thirds of the lawmakers. Thus the motion can’t be endorsed without the main opposition, UML, on board.

Last year, UML chair KP Sharma Oli came down heavily against Rana and four other Supreme Court justices who delivered the verdict to reinstate parliament and appoint Sher Bahadur Deuba as prime minister. Now, Oli is defending Rana and opposing impeachment, saying the motion is a blow to the judiciary’s independence. 

Similarly, PM Deuba, who was against impeachment just three months ago, has changed his mind and is now in favor of impeaching Rana. Also linked with the impeachment case is the much-debated Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Nepal compact, says a Nepali Congress leader who spoke on condition of anonymity. 

“Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal had pledged to support the MCC compact after the agreement among ruling parties to impeach Rana,” says the NC leader. “That was the trade-off but Dahal backtracked.”

According to another ruling party leader, CPN (Maoist-Center) and CPN (Unified Socialist) are willing to table the compact if PM Deuba commits to keep the coalition intact.

It is an open secret that the UML will support the compact’s endorsement if PM Deuba breaks the coalition.

Nepali Congress Central Working Committee member Min Bahadur Bishwakarma says ruling partners are engaged in all kinds of political bargaining. 

“On the one hand, the Maoists and Unified Socialist want to see the MCC endorsed amid their protests. On the other hand, they also want to stay in the government,” says Bishwakarma.

Charan Prasai, a human rights activist, says the impeachment’s timing indicates that it is politically motivated.

“There are cases in the apex court that are directly linked to the fate of the coalition government. Media reports also suggest Rana was suspended so that the new acting chief justice will serve the coalition’s interests,” says Prasai. 

Prasai adds that it is no secret that chief justice and justices frequently meet politicians to bargain on under-deliberation cases. The two sides maintain communication through middlemen. Lawyers knock on the door of politicians to become SC judges, and they in turn deliver verdicts favorable to their political patrons.

Prasai is of the view that the nexus between executive and judiciary deepened after then Chief Justice Khilraj Regmi was appointed government head in 2013 with the brief of holding the second Constituent Assembly elections. After this, judges and politicians started to mingle freely and to see how they could support each other. “It has now become normal for politicians to interfere in courts through judicial council and engage in bench buying,” says Prasai.

The same is the case in bureaucracy. Senior bureaucrats frequently knock on the door of politicians for promotion and favor. In return, politicians seek their support for policy and monetary corruption. This is how many former bureaucrats get appointed to key constitutional bodies. The Election Commission, the National Human Rights Commission, and the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority are thus highly politicized.

Says political analyst Lokraj Baral all state mechanisms have deviated from their constitutional duty and morality. “Heads of state bodies such as the judiciary, Election Commission, and bureaucracy are in hock with politicians for personal benefits,” says Baral. Businessmen and politicians also maintain close connections and these businessmen influence decision-making of ministries and other state organs. As businessmen provide monetary support to political parties, politicians often take policy decisions favorable to them.

Political Analyst Bishnu Dahal says the nexus between politicians and businessmen and between politicians and criminals can be seen from grass-roots to center levels. There is ‘setting’ everywhere, badly affecting state institutions, says Dahal.

Dahal says the ruling parties were preparing to impeach the chief election commissioner Dinesh Kumar Thapaliya due to his firm stand in favor of timely elections but backtracked due to public backlash and decided to impeach the chief justice instead.