UML’s Constitutional Council dominance worries Maoist partyUML nominees head major constitutional bodies including those related to elections, corruption and human rights.
Tika R Pradhan
At a time when the ongoing debate over a consensus candidate for President is heating up, leaders of the ruling CPN (Maoist Centre) are worried by the dominance of the CPN-UML, the biggest party in the current ruling coalition, in the Constitutional Council.
The council is responsible for crucial appointments including those of the chief justice, auditor general and 60 office bearers of 12 different constitutional commissions.
The six-member Council is led by the prime minister and includes the Speaker, deputy Speaker, chair of the National Assembly, chief justice and the leader of the main opposition party, as per Article 284 of the constitution.
Among them, the Speaker (Devraj Ghimire) and the National Assembly chair (Ganesh Timilsina) are UML nominees while the deputy Speaker (Indira Rana) was nominated by the Rastriya Swatantra Party, which is regarded as a UML ally.
Alarmed by the UML’s increasing grip on state power, leaders of the ruling Maoist Centre are reportedly pressing the party leadership to prevent the UML from yet again appointing its nominee as President.
“As the prime minister is already under extreme pressure from the UML chair, the UML’s dominance in the Constitutional Council could make UML chair KP Oli even stronger,” said Chakrapani Khanal, a Maoist Centre secretary. “Oli can create trouble in the council if differences between the two parties grow further.”
Khanal said everybody is focused on the presidential election but the UML has already taken over the highest constitutional authority that makes appointments to vital constitutional bodies.
“The UML chair is an expert when it comes to power consolidation,” said Khanal.
At present, the Council’s five members have been confirmed but the leader of the main opposition party is yet to be decided. The confusion arose after the Nepali Congress gave a vote of confidence to the government.
Currently, major constitutional bodies are led by UML nominees—Dinesh Thapaliya heads the Election Commission, Prem Rai leads the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority, and Top Bahadur Rana leads the National Human Rights Commission.
The Maoist Centre leaders are worried that UML chair KP Sharma Oli’s loyalists will be in majority in the Constitutional Council, with the Speaker and National Assembly chair representing the party while Oli can currently also count on the support of the Rastriya Swatantra Party (Deputy Speaker) and Rastriya Prajatantra Party representative (law minister), who is an ex-officio member of the Constitutional Council for the purpose of nominating Chief Justice.
“Oli won’t let the prime minister make appointments of his choice, which is a major cause of concern,” said an office bearer of the Maoist Centre. “This is why we have been adamant on having a consensus President, someone who is not a UML nominee.”
The Maoist leader said even the existing acting chief justice, Hari Krishna Karki, was appointed on UML quota. Karki had served as attorney general during KP Oli’s first stint as prime minister in 2015-16.
Karki is currently leading the judiciary as acting Chief Justice as the Constitutional Council has not met for over a year, thereby failing to make Karki a full Chief Justice.
“Actually we wanted a President who can actually safeguard the constitution, since we have already seen how the two previous occupants of the office were far from neutral figures,” said Girirajmani Pokhrel, deputy general secretary of the Maoist Centre.
The CPN (Maoist Centre) Standing Committee has been meeting for the past several days with a focus on new political developments after the formation of the party-led government.
Though the issue of the Constitutional Council has not been brought up at the ongoing party meetings, major leaders have expressed concerns over Oli’s tightening grip on major state mechanisms.
A case challenging the constitutional appointments made by then Prime Minister Oli by changing existing law is still sub judice at the Supreme Court.
The Constitutional Council had recommended 52 individuals to various constitutional bodies on December 15, 2020 and May 9, 2021 when UML chair Oli was prime minister.
The appointments had run into controversy as the then Oli government had amended the Constitutional Council (Functions, Duties, Powers and Procedures) Act-2010 through an ordinance to make it easier to convene the meetings of the Constitutional Council in the absence of the Speaker and the leader of the main opposition (the Nepali Congress at that time). The ordinance lapsed, but the appointments remained valid, even though they have been challenged at the Supreme Court.