UML takes wait and see approach after coalition’s attempt to impeach RanaThe party collects signatures of its lawmakers without explaining the purpose. Oli tells lawmakers decision will be taken prudently at an appropriate time.
The CPN-UML on Monday collected signatures of its lawmakers amid speculations that it could file impeachment motions against some other justices in response to an impeachment motion brought against Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher Rana on Sunday by three ruling parties.
The UML’s Parliamentary Party, however, could not arrive at any decision, and the lawmakers entrusted the party leadership with the task of taking necessary decisions.
“Our leadership will take necessary decisions to counter the ruling parties’ move by analysing the situation objectively,” said Bishal Bhattarai, chief whip of the party, after the meeting. “The top leadership will take an appropriate decision at an appropriate time.”
Three ruling parties—the Nepali Congress, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) and the CPN (Unified Socialist)—on Sunday morning filed an impeachment motion against Rana with the signatures of 98 lawmakers.
Rana was automatically suspended, and Deepak Kumar Karki, the seniormost justice, took over as acting chief justice.
Some UML lawmakers including Bhim Rawal, Ghanashyam Bhusal, Pabitra Niraula Kharel, Jhapat Rawal and Dipak Prakash Bhatta, however, refused to provide their signatures on blank papers.
“We were asked to sign on six different blank papers but we didn’t. We told the leaders that we will only sign after knowing the purpose,” said Dipak Prakash Bhatta, a lawmaker.
According to Bhatta, the party could come up with a decision on impeachment motion by Tuesday as the next meeting of the House of Representatives has been scheduled for Wednesday.
The main opposition has not clarified the purpose of collecting the signatures.
Speculations were rife until Monday’s Parliamentary Party meeting that the UML could, in a counter response to the ruling parties, register impeachment motions against at least four justices—those who were members of the Rana-led Constitutional Bench which on July 12 last year threw Oli out of office and ordered to appoint Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba as prime minister.
Deuba leads a coalition government backed by the Maoist Centre, the CPN (Unified Socialist), the Janata Samajbadi Party and the Rastriya Janamorcha.
The three parties' action against Rana came amid discussions between their top leaders on how to deal with the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) compact, a $500 million American grant, which has been awaiting parliamentary ratification for the last three years. The Maoist Centre and the CPN (Unified Socialist) are against the MCC compact’s ratification from Parliament, even though Deuba wants it ratified by the February 28 deadline set by the Americans.
As his coalition partners were not supportive, Deuba was seeking the help from the UML, which controls 97 votes in Parliament. But suddenly on Sunday, the three coalition partners decided to act against Rana.
UML lawmakers said that Monday’s Parliamentary Party meeting basically reviewed the ruling parties’ move against Rana rather than taking a concrete decision. Opinions, however, were divided with some calling for moving impeachment motions against some justices. There were also calls for making a move to remove Speaker Agni Sapkota.
“But our chair KP Sharma Oli said that we need to make a prudent decision rather than making any move in a hurry,” said Sher Bahadur Tamang, a UML lawmaker and former minister.
The UML is of the view that the motion against Rana was brought with multiple objectives.
According to lawmakers, Oli told the Parliamentary Party meeting that the ruling parties’ action is aimed at sabotaging local elections, which have been scheduled for May 13.
The Maoist Centre and the CPN (Unified Socialist), which have opposed an MCC ratification, are also against holding local elections in May. They had been pushing for parliamentary elections in April-May instead.
A section in the UML believes action against Rana could somehow be related to MCC compact ratification. But there was no clarity on how the government could move the MCC compact forward in Parliament amid opposition by two key coalition partners.
Some reports suggest the Maoist Centre and the CPN (Unified Socialist), which have 49 and 23 seats respectively, may walk out after the compact is tabled.
For the compact to get through the Parliament, a simple majority of the lawmakers present at the meeting needs to vote in favour. If the UML also decides to walk out, the Congress, which has 61 seats, can get the support of the Janata Samajbadi Party and Loktantrik Samajbadi Party to ratify the compact. Some ruling party leaders, however, say though these options have been thought about, no one is sure if the process would move forward exactly that way.
The UML has not made its position clear on the MCC compact and has been demanding that it will do what it needs to do once the government tables the compact in Parliament.
For the UML, the situation created by the ruling parties now appears to be a godsend. With confusion all around, it has multiple cards in its hands to play.
By collecting lawmakers’ signatures, the UML now can use them as a weapon.
For an impeachment motion to be filed, one-fourth of the lawmakers, which is 68 as per the current House strength, need to register a motion at the Parliament Secretariat. The UML can also use the signatures to threaten Speaker Sapkota, against whom the main opposition has an axe to grind about.
The UML has been obstructing the House proceedings for the last five months, accusing Sapkota of facilitating the formation of the CPN (Unified Socialist) as he failed to act on the party’s decision to expel its 14 lawmakers.
While Nepal’s constitution allows impeachment of those holding constitutional positions, it has also provisioned a process to remove the Speaker. In the cases of those holding constitutional positions, like chief justice, registration of an impeachment motion immediately results in their suspension. The motion needs to be endorsed by a two-thirds majority of the total strength of the House. In case of the Speaker, a motion to remove him/her does not lead to automatic suspension. The Speaker can continue to preside over meetings unless the motion is endorsed by a two-thirds majority.
UML leaders declined to say why the party collected signatures of its lawmakers and what the purpose is.
A senior leader of the party told the Post that the party chairman has made it clear that the leadership will not make any decision in haste. “But the party won’t delay when it comes to taking appropriate decisions,” said the leader who did not wish to be named. “We have kept multiple options open and the top leadership can take decisions any time.”
The leader said that the signatures may not be used against the Speaker because the UML has not even demanded his resignation yet.
Amid growing differences in the ruling coalition over MCC compact ratification, Prime Minister Deuba had launched negotiations with the UML to seek support. It, however, made his coalition partners suspicious. The UML, which appeared to be supportive, however, was caught unawares after the three ruling parties made a move against Rana.
That the judiciary was facing a crisis, UML leaders say, was known months ago. The UML is wondering what made the ruling parties launch an attack at this time.
“There was nothing to hide as the problem within the judiciary was there for a long time and that could have been resolved through proper discussions,” said Surendra Pandey, a UML lawmaker. “But the problem arose after the ruling parties took a sudden move, keeping the main opposition in the dark. And this has raised many questions.”
According to Pandey, the UML, however, is not going to take any reckless decision as it is a responsible party.
“Our counter-action will lead the country into a never-ending vicious cycle of crisis,” Pandey told the Post. “Unwarranted confrontations could even derail the constitution.”