Not courteous to the courtIn what has rightly been described by a leading constitutional expert as a black day in the country’s judicial history, two major ruling parties on Sunday filed an impeachment motion in Parliament against Chief Justice Sushila Karki.
In what has rightly been described by a leading constitutional expert as a black day in the country’s judicial history, two major ruling parties on Sunday filed an impeachment motion in Parliament against Chief Justice Sushila Karki. The motion has been registered under the pretext of preventing Karki’s interference in the executive’s decision-making. However, the real motive behind the move is to mount a pre-emptive strike against threats that Karki’s firm judicial stance has posed to a number of power centres, particularly NC President Sher Bahadur Deuba and CPN (Maoist Centre) Chairman and Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal.
A similar pre-emptive strike was used last year to impeach the chief of the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority, Lok Man Singh Karki. But that is where the similarities between the two cases end. Whereas Lok Man Karki’s increasingly authoritarian tendencies and the use of scare tactics to silence opponents had been well documented, Sushila Karki has consistently been acclaimed for her relentless fight against political misdeeds and corruption.
A recent case where she irked some political big shots, including Deuba and Dahal, was the appointment of the chief of the police force. In March, a full bench of the Supreme Court headed by Karki quashed the Cabinet’s decision to appoint Deputy Inspector General Jaya Bahadur Chand—widely believed to be Deuba’s choice—as the Inspector General of Police. The SC’s recent order to arrest murder convict Balkrishna Dhungel, a Maoist leader, and the Kavre district court’s conviction of three former Army officers in two separate conflict-era cases had not gone down well with the NC and the CPN (Maoist Centre) either.
Deuba and Dahal seem to have gone the extra mile to mould Karki according to their wishes, including sending their emissaries—senior Maoist leaders Barsha Man Pun and Narayan Kaji Shrestha—to “persuade” her. When Karki didn’t budge, the two big parties in the ruling coalition filed an impeachment motion against her as a last resort.
The motion is unlikely to pass, with the main opposition CPN-UML as well as ruling parties Rastriya Prajatantra Party and Nepal Communist Party Samyukta voicing strong opposition against it. In fact, given the lengthy process, the House may not even take a decision on the motion before Karki retires on June 7. Still, the filing of the motion in Parliament, which only needs the signature of a quarter of the lawmakers, is sufficient grounds for suspending Karki—a constitutional provision that the NC and the CPN (Maoist Centre) have unscrupulously exploited.
Not all in the two parties are happy about the decision. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs Bimalendra Nidhi resigned in the wake of the decision, jeopardising the prospects of the upcoming local level elections. And the public suspicion that the parties never wanted the elections has only deepened.
In a democracy, the elected government has the ultimate authority over state matters. If CJ Karki could perhaps be blamed for one thing, it was her single-mindedness to appoint Navaraj Silwal as the police chief, without looking into new evidence that the documents he submitted to the court to prove his competence were of dubious merit.
But to take a broader perspective and to not get caught up in contemporary battles, separation of powers among the three branches of the government—the executive, the judiciary and the legislature—is the bedrock of democracy. The SC has, at times, been guilty of judicial overreach. But that doesn’t give the executive the right to interfere in the judiciary; two wrongs do not make a right. Impeachment is a constitutional provision that should be used with extreme caution; its frequent and frivolous use sets a bad precedent. It can not only lead to a severe political and constitutional deadlock but even crash the system. Hypothetically, the UML has enough lawmakers to file an impeachment motion against Speaker Onasari Gharti, a Maoist appointee; likewise, the Maoists, with the support of some small parties, can muster enough signatures to suspend President Bidya Devi Bhandari, who comes from the UML.
There is still time for the political parties to go for a quick course correction. The motion against Karki could be withdrawn. But more importantly, there should be a serious rethink about the one-fourth parliamentary signatures required for automatic suspension, now that the provision has already been abused.