Court strips Lamichhane of all posts over citizenshipRabi Lamichhane resigns as deputy prime minister and home minister after the Supreme Court ruling. He can now re-apply for Nepali citizenship.
The Supreme Court on Friday scrapped Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs Rabi Lamichhane’s status as a member of the House of Representatives saying that he didn’t have a valid Nepali citizenship. The Constitutional Bench said that his failure to re-acquire Nepali citizenship after renouncing his United States citizenship prevented him from becoming a national lawmaker.
“As Lamichhane didn’t acquire the Nepali citizenship even after renouncing his American citizenship, he cannot hold the position of a lawmaker,” reads the ruling from the Constitutional Bench led by Acting Chief Justice Hari Krishna Karki.
As he doesn’t have Nepali citizenship, he also cannot continue as minister or lead his party. One must be a Nepali citizen to form a party, contest elections and hold public positions. Hours after the Supreme Court verdict, Lamichhane tendered his resignation as a minister, which Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal approved. Not only did he lose the ministerial berth but also the presidency of his Rastriya Swatantra Party.
Lamichhane had in February 1994 acquired citizenship by descent from the District Administration Office, Kathmandu. Twenty years later, in 2014, he got American citizenship. His Nepali citizenship was automatically scrapped the day he became an American citizen, as per Nepal’s Citizenship Act.
Section 10 of the Act says any Nepali citizen who voluntarily obtains the citizenship of a foreign country will automatically lose the citizenship of Nepal. The Act also makes it mandatory to apply for reclaiming the Nepali citizenship if one renounces his/her foreign citizenship. But Lamichhane didn’t apply for the Nepali citizenship after renouncing his American citizenship. He contested the election of the House of Representatives producing the citizenship acquired in 1994 that had automatically become invalid in 2014 after he got his American citizenship.
He won the elections with a huge margin against the Nepali Congress and CPN-UML candidates from Chitwan-2. Formed on July 1 last year, the Rastriya Swatantra Party won 20 seats in the November 20 elections, becoming the fourth largest party in the lower house. Now the Election Commission will need to hold a by-election in Chitwan-2.
On December 14, advocates Yubaraj Poudel and Rabiraj Basaula had registered a writ petition at the Supreme Court, arguing that Lamichhane cannot be a member of parliament as he doesn’t have the Nepali citizenship. The petitioners had also demanded that the Supreme Court issue an interim order to stop Lamichhane from working as a lawmaker until a final court verdict.
The court refused to issue an interim order in preliminary hearings on January 6. However, it kept the petition on its priority list and held continuous hearings starting January 25.
After two days of hearings, the Karki-led five-member bench concluded that Lamichhane didn’t follow the due legal process to acquire the Nepali citizenship. Section 11 of the Citizenship Act says if a citizen of Nepal who has acquired foreign citizenship returns to reside in Nepal and submits to the designated authority the evidence of renunciation of foreign citizenship, his/her Nepali citizenship shall be restored.
An application needs to be submitted to the respective office to reclaim the Nepali citizenship as per the Act and its regulation.
The authority concerned, after studying the application, would then re-issue a citizenship of Nepal containing the same details mentioned in the previous document. “Article 13 of the Constitution says Nepali citizenship can be acquired and reclaimed as specified in the law,” reads the verdict. “However, Lamichhane didn’t follow the due process after renouncing his American citizenship.”
Clause 11 of the regulations to the Act says the person who has renounced the foreign citizenship should submit an application at the Ministry of Home Affairs or the District Administration Office concerned.
Lamichhane returned to Nepal in 2014, the same year he acquired American citizenship. After four years of his stay in Nepal, a complaint was lodged at the Press Council saying he was working in Nepal without a permit. A foreign national needs a permit to work in the country. Only after much criticism did he quit his American citizenship in May 2018, and its proof was presented at the Department of Immigration.
“Lamichhane has become stateless following Friday’s verdict. He, however, can reclaim the Nepali citizenship following a due legal course,” Bipin Adhikari, a professor and a former dean at Kathmandu University School of Law, told the Post. “However, he can face criminal investigation for flouting citizenship and passport laws.”
The Supreme Court’s verdict has also opened the door for investigating Lamichhane over the possession of dual citizenships and passports, according to legal experts.
Lamichhane had acquired a Nepali passport by producing the citizenship he got in 1994 even before giving up his American citizenship. Amrit Kharel, who pleaded on behalf of the plaintiff, said Lamichhane was simultaneously in possession of American and Nepali passports. “He faces jail for possessing two passports,” he told the Post. “He also needs to be investigated for treason. A non-Nepali has accessed the country’s sensitive information by becoming a deputy prime minister and home minister.” A conviction for treason attracts 25 years of jail. He said the government must immediately start an investigation against him.
Ahead of the November 2022 elections, complaints had been lodged at the Election Commission demanding the scrapping of his candidacy as he was not a Nepali citizen, but the commission took no action. Similarly, the District Administration Office Kathmandu too didn’t investigate his citizenship’s validity.
The Rastriya Swatantra Party has become headless following Friday’s verdict. However, that doesn’t impact the party’s legitimacy. “I don’t think Lamichhane’s lack of citizenship will affect the party’s legitimacy. But the party will now have to select a new president,” Shaligram Sharma Poudel, spokesperson of the Election Commission, told the Post. “But we have to closely study the verdict before deciding anything.”