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Explained: In Nepal, chaos at the top signifies the breakdown of the constitutionATN News

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Nepal is in a constitutional crisis, with key organs of the state pitted against each other. Chief Justice Solendra Shamshar Rana has been placed under undeclared house arrest. Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Duba, who has the support of the leaders of the four major coalition parties, is at odds with President Bidya Devi Bhandari. The president, for his part, is giving politicians sleepless nights over his next move — including the possibility that he will seek to rule as an extra constitutional authority beyond the reach and imagination of the Constitution, which turned six last week.

The current crisis started after President Bhandari Nepal refused to accept the Citizenship Bill. It was sent to him twice after being passed by both Houses of Parliament within a period of one month. The bill seeks to grant citizenship to 500,000 individuals based on birth and descent, and non-voting citizenship to Nepalis residing in non-SAARC countries.

After President Bhandari sent back the bill with about a dozen questions, Parliament sent it back “as is”. Visibly insulted, he held a series of consultations with both the bill’s protagonists and opponents, including retired officers of the Nepalese army and police, lawyers, journalists and civil society representatives, but ultimately confirmed the midnight deadline on Tuesday. The bill was passed.

There are fears that the impasse could lead to the downfall of Nepal’s constitutional system. Public opinion on the bill is divided, and there are questions about its timing – with elections already announced for November 20. There are also questions as to why the government’s intention to bring in the bill without wider consultation and two attempts at a solution. The citizenship issue – in 1991 and 2006 – was not won.

A three-way fight

Duba’s fifth term in less than three decades of unstable government began in July 2021 when a constitution bench of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice Rana struck down President Bhandari’s decision to prematurely dissolve Parliament for the second time in less than six months. KP Oli-led government’s recommendation without examining the formation of an alternate government.

The court ruled that the president’s decision to ask Oli to head an interim government was unconstitutional, rejecting a majority of MPs’ demand that Tuba appoint a prime minister. He administered the oath of office to Deuba, the president of the Nepali Congress. She swallowed her pride then, but the mutual animosity between the president and the government was palpable.

Oli, head of Nepal’s main opposition Communist Party-Unified Marxist-Leninist Party, calls Duba a “paramadesi (beneficiary of mandamus) PM”. Chief Justice Rana has made it clear that he respects the prime minister’s prerogative to dissolve the House and hold by-elections, but does not want to dissent from a ‘unanimous’ verdict on the matter. Despite being a party to the court’s July 2021 judgment, Rana’s reservations sent a message that his political sympathies were on the sound side.

Leader Bhandari has been a senior UML activist and vocal loyalist and has refused to hide his party support for him. Senior Member of Parliament Dina Upadhyay confirmed that after steps were taken to impeach Rana earlier this year, the notice would be withdrawn if he resigned and gave way to his junior Deepak Karki. to take

Rana refused, but the incident confirmed that his continued tenure was a thorn in the flesh of the ruling coalition. The impeachment motion against him was filed in early March and, according to most constitutional experts, became futile after the term of the current parliament ended on Tuesday. Rana, who has been under suspension for the past six months since the motion was filed, now wants to be reinstated as the chief justice — but the ruling coalition has suggested that he wants to resign or retire after reaching a certain age on December 13 this year. . Rana’s security has already been withdrawn.

There is a consensus among independent legal experts that there is no provision for the criminal motion to be taken to the next House – and only if Rana resigns on moral grounds. But Tuba and the ruling coalition disagreed, and the UML remained tactically silent. Any recognition of Rana by international legal bodies could embarrass the regime, which has repeatedly claimed to stand for judicial independence.

Republic of Turmoil

The day after the Citizenship Bill expired, four key leaders of the ruling coalition met at the Prime Minister’s residence and issued a statement saying the President’s (in)action was unconstitutional and deprived millions of people of their right to citizenship. Bhandari undermined the supremacy of the Constitution and the sovereignty of the people.

They called upon all political parties, civil society, media and people to observe the activities of the President. Youth and students from the ruling coalition made a similar call the next day.

Vice President Nanda Kishore Ban, who was one of the six deputy commanders of Maoist guerrillas under Dahal during the 1996-2006 insurgency, criticized Bhandari: “It is unfortunate that the first defender and protector of the Constitution has violated it.”

But Mahesh Basnet, a prominent leader of the UML, held a rally on Wednesday defending the President’s Act.

The dysfunction of Nepal’s constitution underscores the failure of revolutionaries and other leaders of the country to manage the radical changes of 2006. Denying traditional powers, including the monarchy, a place in the new power structure is not practical – as a result, processes to identify and punish perpetrators of human rights abuses during the conflict remain incomplete. The parties that stood together against the monarchy in 2006 have now collapsed.

This is not the first time the president has been accused of undermining the constitution. Ram Baran Yadav, the first president since Nepal became a republic in May 2008, reappointed Rukhmangut Gadwal as army chief within 24 hours of his sacking by then-Prime Minister Prashant.

Dealing with the President

Impeachment is the only way to punish an erring president. However, the death of the mansion has given Bhandari a protective shield.

Even though the credibility of the judiciary is at an all-time low, the ruling coalition is weighing a move to court. An option is to gazette a bill approved by Parliament without the President’s stamp – however, a government that treats the President as a non-executive can be interpreted as a republican decision.

Both sides are waiting and watching: If law and order breaks down, whose side will the military take – the side of the administration or its commander-in-chief, the president? Two months before the elections, how will the government deal with the current deadlock and breakdown of the constitution?

These questions may seem hypothetical, but they point to a very dire situation in Nepal.

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