‘PHC hearing allows public to take part in the process’

Senior leader of Rastriya Janata Party-Nepal Laxman Lal Karna heads the Parliamentary Hearing Committee that conducts confirmation hearing for constitutional post holders, including chief justice. His neutrality was questioned when he presided over the PHC confirmation hearing for chief justice nominee Deepak Raj Joshee in July and August. Ram Kumar Kamat of The Himalayan Times caught up with Karna, also a senior advocate, to know his views on  issues related to PHC hearings, his party’s  next political move and dissatisfaction within the party over its recent decision to rotate the  leadership of the party presidium. Excerpts:

You were accused of not playing a neutral role when you led the Public Hearing Committee as the senior-most member of the panel that rejected chief justice nominee Deepak Raj Joshee. What do you have to say?

I tried my best to forge consensus in the panel  during the hearing for chief justice nominee Deepak Raj Joshee and deferred voting on the issue four times. I postponed voting to give time to both ruling and opposition parties’ lawmakers in the panel to make up their mind on Joshee’s confirmation or rejection. Some lawmakers of the ruling and opposition parties had also requested me to defer voting. I had no reason to show partiality in the process of confirmation hearing. The House of Representatives Rules stipulate that a nominee will be rejected if two-thirds majority of the PHC so decides. The day the confirmation decision was taken, even NC lawmakers took part in the debate but stayed away from the voting process. They said they would not take part in the voting process but would register their note of dissent. When a lawmaker takes part in a debate and later boycotts the voting process, it does not change anything. At the PHC, issues should be settled through two-thirds majority. I did not have to cast my vote because two-thirds of the panel had rejected Joshee’s nomination. How can anybody question my neutrality?

Are you planning to run the PHC differently now?

The panel’s proceedings are governed by established rules and regulations. I followed those rules in the past and will follow now as well.

When CJ nominee Joshee was rejected, some said Joshee should not have been rejected because he had been recommended for CJ by the powerful Constitutional Council. What is your say?

In recent years, we have seen even in the parliamentary system such confirmation hearings taking place. These processes are governed by separate laws in those countries where such systems are not ensured by those countries’  constitutions.  Parliamentary confirmation hearing originated in America.  There is a popular view that when nominations are made by the executive head in which the Parliament has no say or control, the Parliament should also conduct hearing for such nominees. We have a slightly different system in that the nomination in the American system is made by the president, but in our system, nominations are made by the Constitutional Council which consists of the PM, speaker, chair of the National Assembly and the chief justice. Minister of Law Justice and Parliamentary Affairs also takes part in the CC meeting when it deals with the question of nominating the CJ. Therefore, there is one school of thought  that there should not be Parliamentary hearing for constitutional post holders when nominations are made by the chiefs of all three organs of the state — executive, legislature and the judiciary. We practised such hearings after promulgating of the Interim Constitution of Nepal, 2007. Ours is a constitutional provision. I deem it appropriate because there is no public participation in the CC nomination process. I think Parliamentary hearings that we conduct in our country is more mature system as it allows the public to take part in the process. This is the only reason other countries are also following this system.

Don’t you think that the ruling party with majority in the PHC can dominate the panel’s decision-making process?

There are two things we must take into account. A government can be formed when a party commands majority of more than 50 per cent, but in the PHC, any nominee can be rejected only after two-thirds of panel members support the decision. Now this coalition government has two-thirds majority in the Parliament. That is a different thing. The ruling party does not always have two-thirds majority in the Parliament. Other parliamentary panels where the ruling party has more members or even two-thirds majority also oversee the functions of the ministries concerned. Those panels also check the ministries’ activities and issue directives when they think that the ministries concerned are not doing their jobs properly. This means the ruling party cannot dominate the functions of the parliamentary panels just because it has two-thirds majority in the parliamentary panels. As far as Joshee’s rejection is concerned, in one sense the PHC rejected the PM’s nominee. Therefore, the argument that the government influenced the PHC’s decision was wrong.

How will RJP-N fight for its cause in the HoR?

We decided to support the government after the ruling party assured it would address our two demands — demands relating to constitution amendment and withdrawal of false cases slapped against our party cadres. In the past, when the government tried to amend the constitution, it could not do so due to lack of two-thirds majority, but this government commands two-thirds majority in the Parliament. This Parliament is perfect for addressing our demands and this is the perfect time for the government to address our demands.

We did not join the government and we sit on the opposition benches. We are playing the role of constructive opposition and will continue to do so tomorrow. This means we will support the government’s good work but will not shy away from opposing its bad work.

Your party had said it would withdraw support to the government because the government did not address RJP-N’s demands, but your party has not done so yet. What are your comments?

Yes, our party had said it would withdraw support to the government and resort to movement/protests, but there are various modes of movements. Resorting to movement does not always mean one should hit the street and stop vehicular movement. Even now, we are opposing the government in the Parliament and outside it.  We had given an ultimatum to the government before Dashain vacation to address our demands before Chhath festival. The government has not addressed our demands. A few days ago, this issue was raised in the party’s presidium meeting, but that day the party dealt with another issue — rotation of the coordinator after two months as provisioned in the party’s statute. I think the party will hold its meeting soon and discuss this issue. It will decide whether it needs to continue supporting the government or withdraw support, but if you ask my personal views, then I say there is no rationale to continue supporting the government because we have waited long enough for the government to address our demands and yet the government has done nothing to address our demands.

Some leaders of your party are saying the decision to rotate leadership of the party’s presidium is an attempt to join the government. What do you say?

All political parties aim is to seize opportunities to gain power and rule the country. Parties can serve people by exercising state power. It is not that we were not offered a chance to join the government. In fact, we were asked repeatedly to join it. We led three movements and during those movements more than 150 people were killed.  Hundreds were injured. Three dozen people were maimed. If people’s expectations are not fulfilled, then we should not join the government just for the sake of seeking power and positions. We will not go against the spirit of people’s sacrifice. If any leader of our party has thought of joining the government they are wrong.

How confident are you that your party’s demands will be addressed by this government?

I don’t want to oppose this government for commanding two-thirds majority in the Parliament. We also contested election and formed our coalition government in Province 2, albeit with simple majority. This government won two thirds parliamentary seats in the last elections and hence we should not think otherwise about the government. However, the irony is that this  government that claims it is a strong government has failed on three key issues — ensuring food, clothing and shelter for the poor people, accelerating the pace of development and maintaining law and order. As far as the rights issues are concerned, real communists win rights for those who have been deprived of rights. Communists also give voice to voiceless people and they make enough provisions to enable poor people to meet their basic needs.

Madhesi, Dalit, Janajati, women and other marginalised group and communities are saying that they were deprived of not only their rights, but also of the rights ensured in the Interim Constitution of Nepal, 2007. Madhesis, Janajatis and other marginalised groups and communities have been raising issues of identity and dignity from time to time. If the government does not heed these demands, then public will oppose the government.

Your party’s recent decision to rotate the post of coordinator has given rise to resentment within the party. Some say discontent can even lead to division of the party. What do you say?

One has to think why these six parties merged to create a united RJP-N. People wanted to merge all the parties that championed the voice of marginalised groups and communities. Leaders respected the peoples’ desire and created a unified party with the objective of winning the rights of marginalised communities and groups. This objective remains unfulfilled. Therefore, I do not think our party will split without realising its stated goals. At the confluence of two rivers, you can see the waters of those rivers flowing separately for some distance but at some point, they become the water of one river and the same situation may exist in our party now. Here you can see six rivers converging at one place so it is natural to see six separate water currents. All these differences within the party will be resolved after the party’s first General Convention. The GC should establish one leader’s rule in the party and end the current presidium system.