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Shadow over elections

Sunday, April 30th, 2017
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Just before being forced to step down after an impeachment motion was lodged in Parliament late Sunday, Chief Justice Sushila Karki managed to convict three ex-Police Chiefs for kickbacks on the purchase of armoured personnel carriers for Nepal’s UN peacekeeping mission.

In the evening Home Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Bimalendra Nidhi resigned from his post in protest against the impeachment process, even though he is from the Nepali Congress whose president Sher Bahadur Deuba wanted to get back at Karki for opposing his appointment for the next police chief.

Another Deputy Prime Minister Kamal Thapa criticised the impeachment motion, and said he was never consulted by Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal even though his RPP is a member of the ruling coalition.

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All this has thrown the prospect of local elections, Nepal’s first in 19 years, slated for 14 May in doubt. There are just two days left for political parties to nominate their candidates for the first round of local elections, and the absence of the Home Minister is going to be felt. The ruling Maoist-NC coalition is still trying to secure a two-thirds majority to pass the constitution amendment bill – a prerequisite for Madhesi parties to take part in polls.

Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal on Sunday tried to assure people that local polls will be held on the scheduled dates, but not many look convinced. There are fears that the government will postpone elections after the unfolding political drama.

On Sunday afternoon, 251 MPs from the ruling Maoist-NC coalition registered in Parliament an impeachment motion against Chief Justice Sushila Karki – a judge known for her bold and independent decisions.

Hours earlier, a Supreme Court bench headed by Karki herself held three ex-police chiefs guilty in the Sudan scam. Om Bikram Rana was slapped with a two-year imprisonment and a fine of Rs 50,000 while Hem Bahadur Gurung and Ramesh Chanda Thakuri were both sentenced to one year in jail and fined with Rs 40,000.

Just when Karki walked out of the court room after handing down her verdict on the Sudan case, she heard about the impeachment being registered in Parliament. The ruling parties have accused Karki of interfering in the executive – a reference to her recent ruling against the government’s decision to promote Jaya Bahadur Chand as the police chief.

Home Minister Bimalendra Nidhi had backed his own candidate, Nabaraj Silwal, whose hearing in the Supreme Court was scheduled for Tuesday. Acting on a writ filed by Silwal, Karki had earlier dismissed Chand’s appointment and directed the government to make Silwal as new police chief. The government appointed neither Silwal nor Chand and picked up a third candidate, Prakash Aryal.

Sunday’s political drama unfolded at a time when the ruling coalition struggled to secure a two-thirds majority to pass the constitution amendment bill, and Madhesi parties have adamant that they will not take part in local elections unless the constitution is amended.

The main opposition UML has vowed to foil the amendment bill, and impeachment proposal against Karki has further antagonised it. UML leader Subash Nembang said that impeachment motion against Karki is a sign that ‘the government is now becoming authoritarian’.

Om Astha Rai

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