In mocking lawyers and judiciary, Oli is making a mockery of rule of lawLegal experts say ever since he dissolved the House, the prime minister has been making attempts to justify his move and in doing so he has turned the whole situation into a farce.
Ever since Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli dissolved the House of Representatives on December 20, he has been involved in a noteworthy exercise in vitriol, launching acerbic attacks against his critics, oftentimes overstepping the bounds of propriety and decency. The self-aggrandisement has been in full display when he mocks his opponents. But what Oli has been saying of late shows the attitude he holds towards the judiciary, one of the branches of the government in a democracy, that is currently testing the constitutionality of his House dissolution move.
While addressing his cadres on January 22, Oli took a dig at one of the lawyers pleading on behalf of the petitioners who have challenged the House dissolution move and described the ongoing hearing as a farce.
Oli said that there are no constitutional provisions for restoring the House.
“But lawyers have been repeatedly making arguments ad nauseum,” said Oli. “They have taken a ‘grandfather’ lawyer to the court to show him the drama. Why are they troubling an old man,” Oli added, referring to Krishna Prasad Bhandari who is 94 years old. Bhandari, a former chair of Nepal Bar Association, on January 17 had pleaded on behalf of the petitioners who have challenged Oli’s House dissolution move.
Those from the legal fraternity have taken serious exception to Oli’s statement, saying the country’s executive head has severely undermined the judiciary.
Issuing a statement on Sunday, four former chairpersons of Nepal Bar Association, an umbrella organisation of practising lawyers, condemned Oli for attacking the judiciary.
“Slandering the country’s most senior legal professional is a shameful attack on the entire legal profession,” the former Bar chairpersons said in the statement.
Balaram KC, a former Supreme Court justice, said the prime minister has crossed the limits.
“Even the freedom of expression has its own limits, but Oli has overstepped the obvious bounds of decency,” KC told the Post.
According to KC, the prime minister’s statements regarding a sub-judice case are objectionable.
“He cannot treat the judiciary as subservient to him or his government,” said KC.
Oli was elected prime minister in February 2018 after his CPN-UML in an electoral alliance with the CPN (Maoist Centre), led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal, registered a victory in 2017 elections.
After the two communist parties merged to form the Nepal Communist Party in May 2018, Oli commanded nearly two-thirds majority in Parliament.
Oli had started displaying his totalitarian streaks from the very start.
After falling out with Dahal, Oli last month decided to dissolve the House, in a move that legal experts say is unconstitutional because the current constitution does not allow a majority prime minister to do so.
As many as 13 writs have been filed at the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Bench has been hearing them.
Oli, who has declared snap polls for April 30 and May 10, appears unfazed. He has been addressing his loyalists almost every day, and as is his wont, he has been taking a dig at one or the other person without fail.
His statements that his House dissolution decision is a political move and that it does not warrant a judicial review had attracted criticism from lawyers.
Girish Chandra Lal, also a former Supreme Court justice, said that the law of the land is applicable equally to all–be it a private citizen or the country’s executive head.
“No one is above the law in a democratic society,” Lal told the Post. “Since the prime minister holds the highest office in the country, he has more responsibility when it comes to ensuring rule of law and abiding by the constitution.”
Ever since Oli assumed office, he has made a series of attempts to weaken various institutions and attacked the system, but by dissolving the House, observers say, he has disturbed the principle of separation of powers.
As a democracy, Nepal too has three branches of the state–the executive, the legislature and the judiciary.
Under Oli, the country’s executive branch has not been as effective–it has failed spectacularly on the governance front as corruption has been rife. By crushing the very House that elected him as prime minister, Oli undermined the legislature. Making the Office of the President support his various controversial decisions, Oli has brought disgrace to the high office as well.
Now he is not only dragging the court into controversy but also making defamatory remarks against the judiciary, which is considered an independent institution, observers say.
On Sunday, a lawyer approached the Supreme Court seeking to file a contempt of court against Oli for his January 22 remarks against Bhandari, the senior advocate, and for calling the ongoing hearing a drama.
Senior advocate Kumar Sharma Acharya, who attempted to file the case, said his petition against the prime minister could not be registered on Sunday.
“They have asked me to visit the court at 11 am tomorrow,” Acharya told the Post.
Legal experts say Oli is going beyond his brief as the executive head when he is ridiculing the lawyers and treating the judiciary as an institute servile to him.
Surendra Mahato, a senior advocate, said in a democracy, the judiciary serves as the last resort for the people and this is one institution where people put their faith in.
“No one has the right to undermine the judiciary, not even the prime minister,” Mahato told the Post. “Making light of court hearings can tarnish the image of the judiciary and weaken the institution.”
Oli’s House dissolution move has resulted in a split in the Nepal Communist Party. The other faction is led by Dahal and Madhav Kumar Nepal, Oli’s arch-rival from the UML days. Both Oli and Dahal-Nepal factions are vying to claim the Nepal Communist Party as their own.
While Oli has been trying to justify his House dissolution move and making a case for a fresh mandate, the Dahal-Nepal faction has taken to the streets, demanding restoration of the House.
Both the factions are engaged in a war of words. But Oli seems to have trumped his opponents, as he is far ahead in launching vituperative attacks. In a bid to pander to his loyalists, Oli has been making all kinds of statements.
Oli is drunk on power and is behaving as though he is the state, political analysts told the Post last week.
Legal experts say Oli has smashed the principle of separation of powers and the checks and balances.
“Constitutional bodies that are supposed to work independently have become the shadow of the executive,” said Hari Prasad Uprety, a senior advocate. “There are examples galore. Look at the Election Commission how it is dealing with the Nepal Communist Party issue, look at how the justices were selected for the [Constitutional] Bench, look at some of the appointments… these all show that the executive is having total control.”
The way politics between Oli and Dahal and Nepal has played out and the way Oli has launched attacks against all his critics show Oli’s vindictive nature, but in mocking the senior lawyer, he has also demonstrated his yet another character–that of being ungrateful to someone who once had stood by him.
Bhandari, a lawyer for six decades, is known as someone who has offered legal aid to almost all politicians in Nepal. And Oli is not an exception.
Bhandari, Uprety recalled, had pleaded on behalf of Oli and his colleague Mohan Chandra Adhikari in Dhankuta on a murder charge during the Jhapa movement of the early 1970s.
According to Uprety, by deriding the senior lawyer, Oli has proved that he is a selfish ingrate and by undermining the judiciary, he is showing that he has no regards for rule of law.
“Oli’s indecent remarks against the judiciary also show his defeated mindset,” said Uprety. “He has never demonstrated regards for democratic values. But what is more concerning is that Oli is putting the country on a slippery slope.”