Balance of power

  • Judiciary, instead of fighting against media, is advised to focus on checks and balances

Mar 5, 2018-

The events that have occurred since the three-tier elections last year have made it clear that a major shift in Nepal’s politics is underway. For many years, politicians and intellectuals have bemoaned the fact that governments have been highly unstable and coalition governments prone to collapse. 

The situation now is absolutely the opposite: We now have a government that has a near two-third majority. And there are signs that the new government intends to centralise a great deal of power. Various functions that should be the prerogative of independent organs of state have been brought directly under the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).

For example, the PMO is now responsible for overseeing the activities of NGOs and INGOs. Some senior leaders in the CPN-UML and CPN-Maoist Centre have publicly started speaking out against NGOs in Nepal, by referring to them as “foreign agents”. The new government apparently plans to curtail the activities of NGOs.

We could be entering a period where it seems that political parties will try to establish themselves as the only intermediaries between state and society. By that logic, perhaps the only NGOs that will be allowed to flourish will be the ones that the ruling parties are comfortable with.

The organ of state that is supposed to prevent the government from over-extending its reach—the judiciary—is in no position to play such a role. Instead, the Supreme Court itself is currently engaged in efforts to stifle the media. The fact that the Chief Justice himself ordered the Press Council to instruct media houses not to report on stories relating to his citizenship and academic documents bodes poorly for the future of democratic space in this country.

A number of politicians have started speaking out about impeaching justices who are found to engage in “corrupt” activity. And this is no mere threat. If the new government manages to get a two-third majority in parliament, as seems likely, it will be able to impeach anyone occupying a position in the state apparatus. In some cases, they will have legitimate grounds to do so. For example, former CIAA head Lokman Singh Karki had clearly abused his authority. Nonetheless, there is a danger of excesses. This will lead to a further erosion of the separation of powers and the steady strengthening of the executive at the expense of other organs of state. This, needless to say, would be undesirable. The judiciary, instead of occupying itself with fights against the media, would be well advised to take the broader view and set itself up as a protector of the freedoms of expression and association, as well as the principle of separation of powers.  

Published: 05-03-2018 07:43

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