Confusion persists over President’s role in Citizenship BillExperts say ex-President Bhandari flouted constitution by sitting on the bill passed twice by Parliament.
The first meeting of the budget session of the House of Representatives on Sunday saw lawmakers divided on the Citizenship Bill. Lawmakers from CPN-UML, the main opposition, said that the existing bill, which was rejected by the former President, cannot be endorsed now. They pressed for the registration of a fresh bill in Parliament.
The bill’s passage would clear the way to citizenship for up to 400,000 people who have been deprived of their constitutional rights and remain stateless in their own country.
On the other hand, other lawmakers said the President should authenticate the bill, looking at the seriousness of the citizenship issues and asserted that the former President flouted the constitution by not authenticating it.
Whether the newly-elected President Ramchandra Paudel can authenticate the bill to amend the Citizenship Act has emerged as a conundrum. The constitution is unclear on what happens if the President refuses to authenticate the bill, making the issue difficult to navigate.
The President has already begun consultations over the matter. Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, meanwhile, has requested the President to authenticate the bill.
Before the commencement of the second session of the new Parliament, Prime Minister Dahal had invited representatives from the Nepal Bar Association to seek suggestions on the status of the bill. The office-bearers of the umbrella body of lawyers suggested that as the Parliament had done its job by endorsing the bill twice, it was now up to the President to decide on the matter.
“As the Parliament has already endorsed the bill twice, it cannot go back again and we suggested that the President has every right to authenticate the bill,” Gopal Krishna Ghimire, chairperson of the Bar Association, had told the Post at the time.
Although the umbrella body of lawyers suggested that the President can authenticate the bill, the legal fraternity remains divided on the matter.
Constitutional expert Bhimarjun Acharya argues that as the bill is in the domain of the Parliament and there is a new Parliament now, the President cannot authenticate the old bill. “The last Parliament completed all necessary processes, but the then President did not authenticate it. With the end of the previous House of Representatives’ tenure, the bill should now be deemed as inactive,” said Acharya.
According to Acharya, the federal Parliament should now begin a new process to reintroduce the bill.
Advocate Baburam Dahal echoed Acharya’s point of view. “The new House will have new businesses. If the new Parliament cannot own it as its business, the bill is by itself nullified,” said Dahal.
The major elections held in November last year elected a new House of Representatives. Before that, former President Bidya Devi Bhandari had refused to authenticate the amendment bill, twice. Bhandari returned the bill to the House of Representatives for a review with her 15-point concerns and suggestions on August 14 last year. Both the Houses of the Federal Parliament endorsed the bill as it was, without considering Bhandari’s suggestions.
Article 113 (3) of the constitution states that except in the case of a money bill, if the President thinks that a bill needs reconsideration, it may be sent back to the House where it originated along with a message within 15 days of receiving it. But the President has to authenticate the bill the second time it comes to the President’s Office.
“In case any bill is sent back along with a message by the President, and both Houses reconsider and adopt such a bill as it was or with amendments and present it again, the President shall authenticate that bill within 15 days of such presentation,” Article 113(4) of the Constitution says.
However, that was not the case. When the bill was sent to the President’s Office for authentication for a second time, Bhandari let the 15-day deadline pass. Bhandari retired on March 9 without authenticating the bill.
Though Bhandari’s decision has been challenged in the court, the final verdict is yet to be pronounced. And now, with the end of the Parliament’s tenure, the bill is considered to have lapsed, according to some constitutional experts.
Constitutional expert Bipin Adhikari said that in a parliamentary system based on the Westminster model, a President cannot give assent to a bill passed by a Parliament that has already completed its term or has been dissolved. All bills that have not gotten the head of state’s stamp of approval before the end of the Parliament’s term or dissolution are considered to have lapsed.
“It means they no longer have any legal force and must be re-introduced and passed by a new parliament, if they are to become law. The situation would have been different had it been the same Parliament,” said Adhikari.
On the other hand, some constitutional experts say the laws do not stop President Paudel from authenticating the bill.
“Former President Bhandari’s move was unconstitutional. But the new President can use his own wisdom and discretion. To endorse it or not is up to his discretion as the Parliament has already twice passed the bill,” said another constitutional expert Dinesh Tripathi.