By Maila Baje
From the sheer timeline, it would appear that the judiciary was waiting for the executive to prove before the legislature its commitment to pull the country back from the precipice of impending calamity.
A three-person bench of the Supreme Court removed Lok Man Singh Karki as head of Nepal’s anti-corruption watchdog, allowing the legislature to bypass a motion to impeach the man.
Hours after the government tabled the Constitution amendment bill in Parliament, the top court ruled that Karki was not only unqualified for the position but also lacked the moral authority to assume it.
What was curious was the ease with which the government tabled the amendment bill in a legislature obstructed by an opposition alliance freshly enthused by its show of force on the streets.
It’s nice to see the system working in such tandem. But were the two events entirely fortuitous?
Lest we hear cries of conspiracy, let’s be clear. In nullifying Karki’s appointment, the judges ruled that he lacked requisite experience and moral character to head a constitutional body like the CIAA. In other words, the Court limited itself to the moment of Karki’s appointment. The impeachment process, on the other hand, comprised his tumultuous tenure.
The Nepali Congress, CPN-UML, Maoists and MJF (D) unanimously backed Karki as the CIAA chief in 2013. Chairman of the Council of Ministers Khil Raj Regmi, also still chief justice, strongly backed his appointment, which President Ram BaranYadav announced. All this happened despite protests within these very political parties and from civil society. The Supreme Court rejected a challenge.
After the latest verdict, Om Aryal who had filed the original challenge and returned with the current petition, exuded a sense of vindication. “The rule of law has been re-established,” he told a reporter. “[Karki’s] appointment was against good governance, and its cancellation is a big step towards good governance.”
Now Aryal wants all those who aided and abetted Karki’s appointment to apologize. Fat chance, if you ask MailaBaje. The political establishment thought he was qualified then, and that’s that. That the CIAA turned against the establishment, with Karki as a one-man wrecking ball, is a different matter. (And we’re not even talking about the ‘foreign hand’ that supposedly eased Karki’s path.)
If the system failed us, then, there’s always a remedy. When the Supreme Court in the world’s most powerful democracy can rewrite a controversial health care law and then rule it as constitutional, who’s to decry judicial activism, right?
Karki is probably mulling his options. He could contest the next election and redeem himself through the popular vote in the manner disgraced politicians do. He could come out with the ‘goods’ he says he has on key members of the establishment. (More likely, we might start seeing leaks in the press on supposed trade-offs, blandishments and considerations that underpinned key political decisions and events of recent years.)
But you have to ask whether the Supreme Court would have revisited the case if the tide hadn’t turned against Karki so dramatically. (Surely, impeachment, merely by incorporating new facts relating to Karki’s tenure, would have made more sense.)
Now we can retroactively revisit an appointee’s qualifications and moral standing for a job he has held for years. Sure, Karki may have been a scumbag. But how would our new judicial standard impinge on an establishment comprising the likes of mass murderers, executioners and spouses of hijackers, once the public mood were to shift?
Specifically, how much influence did that pesky doctor wield in all this by threatening to starve himself to death unless Karki was shown the door? And especially when the facts on the ground had not changed, at least for the purposes of the Supreme Court?
If institutions of state are seen to be reacting to those kinds of pressures, how much reassurance do we really have on more weighty matters looming on the horizon?
Qualified hope for moral incumbency
By Maila Baje