Explained | Judges’ demand for CJ’s resignation throws Supreme Court of Nepal into crisis

They accuse Chief Justice Rana of having secret understanding with ruling party Nepali Congress

October 28, 2021 11:27 pm | Updated 11:27 pm IST

A view of the Supreme Court of Nepal.

A view of the Supreme Court of Nepal.

What is the controversy in the Supreme Court of Nepal about?

The majority of the judges — 15 out of 20 — in the Supreme Court of Nepal have been demanding resignation of Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher JB Rana accusing him of having secret understanding with the ruling party Nepali Congress which is led by Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba. The rebel judges have launched a strike bringing all work in the Supreme Court to a standstill. They have asked Chief Justice Rana to step down pointing at instances that his family is benefiting from the Government.

Also read: News Analysis | In Nepal, Supreme Court offers a way out of political impasse

What is the significance of the crisis?

Chief Justice Rana has been a crucial player in the political drama that began in Kathmandu with the dissolution of the Nepalese Parliament last December when Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli moved to centralise power around himself. The Supreme Court in a judgement on February 23 overturned the decision and urged the Government to convene Parliament within 13 days. The verdict showed that the court had emerged as an arbiter of power in Nepal’s polity where internal divisions within dominant parties like the Nepal Communist Party, the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML have often paralysed the Government. The crisis has shown that the Supreme Court too can be paralysed just like the political structure.

What is the allegation of collusion between Nepali Congress and the CJ?

The controversy erupted on October 8 when Prime Minister Deuba expanded his Ministry after months of procrastination. One of those inducted was Gajendra Hamal, brother-in-law of Chief Justice Rana. Mr. Hamal has been appointed as the Minister of Industry, Commerce and Supplies.

How did CJN Rana emerge as a political player?

The Chief Justice began to play a political role in a situation where the political structure had collapsed in Kathmandu after PM Oli repeated his December 2020 act and again dissolved the Lower House in a midnight drama on May 22. This prompted the rebels within his Nepali Communist Party to approach the Supreme Court. Subsequently, the internal crisis in the Oli Government heated up when a faction of the lawmakers close to former PM Madhav Kumar Nepal approached the Supreme Court demanding that as the leader of the majority in Parliament, Mr. Deuba should replace Mr. Oli as the latter had lost majority and was unwilling to hold a vote of confidence.

On July 12, a constitutional bench led by Chief Justice Shah asked PM Oli to step down as his action of dissolving the House of Representatives was unconstitutional. Leader of the majority, president of Nepali Congress Sher Bahadur Deuba, was asked to take over as the PM. Mr. Deuba proved majority on July 19. He however continued with a small 4-member Cabinet in the initial few weeks till the October 8 expansion with 17 Ministers, one of whom was Mr. Hamal .

What is the way out?

One section of the judges is demanding that Chief Justice Rana should resign. But he has refused to do so asking for an impeachment in Parliament. But given the political set up and obvious links between the Government and the Chief Justice, it is not possible to garner a majority in Parliament for an impeachment motion against him. However, what has added to the crisis is that neither the Nepali Congress nor the coalition partner Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist-Centre) of Prachanda seems eager for impeaching CJ Rana. The agitating judges reportedly have conveyed to the Deuba Government that they will not back down and the strike will go on though it is hurting the public as hundreds of hearings are being suspended. The Opposition, Mr. Oli's CPN-UML, can bring an impeachment motion in Parliament, but it is unlikely to get passed as the majority continues to be with Mr. Deuba.

Is this the first time such a division has appeared among the judges?

The Supreme Court has a history of being divided along political lines and controversies regarding Chief Justices are not new. In 2018, PM Oli had asked then Chief Justice Gopal Parajuli to step down after discrepancies were found in his personal information. But the paralysis of judicial functioning affecting the larger public is a rare event in the history of the country’s judiciary.

What will happen next?

Nepal is months away from the general election for which the Nepali Congress is preparing. A section in the Deuba Government believes that the election should be held a bit earlier and should be completed by the summer of 2022 so that a majority government could be elected for smooth governance. The stalemate will affect the public’s confidence in the judiciary and cast a shadow on the prospects of the upcoming election which is likely to be hotly contested by Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and CPN (Maoist-Centre) and may require judicial intervention at some point. A dented reputation of the judiciary will not help the political process.

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