Whether Deuba will become PM will largely depend on how the Supreme Court interprets Article 76 (5) of the constitution
The way the political parties knock at the door of the Supreme Court to settle every political score of theirs, it shows they lack confidence in the sovereign people, who elect them to power through periodic elections. If every political issue is taken to the court, the Parliament will cease to exercise its sovereign right, and the apex court will start playing politics under the guise of interpreting the constitution. This has happened in Nepal since the promulgation of the new constitution in 2015. No sooner had President Bidhya Devi Bhandari dissolved the Parliament on May 22 and announced the mid-term elections in November at the recommendation of the council of ministers than the opposition parties teamed up and moved the apex court on May 24, seeking reinstatement of the Parliament. The opposition parties, led by Nepali Congress president and main opposition leader Sher Bahadur Deuba, filed a writ petition at the court, demanding Deuba be appointed as the Prime Minister under Article 76 (5) of the constitution as he had the backing of 146 lawmakers, including 23 lawmakers from Madhav Nepal-faction of the ruling CPN-UML, in the House of Representatives (HoR), which was reinstated by the apex court on February 23. The opposition parties have also sought the apex court's intervention on the possible use of the anti-defection law against those who supported Deuba. They have also demanded that the mid-term polls scheduled for November 12 and 19 be scrapped and the HoR meeting be called soon for the presentation of the new fiscal budget on May 29. Their argument is that the anti-defection law does not apply to the lawmakers when Article 76 (5) is invoked. However, in disqualifying the claims laid by both Prime Minister KP Oli and Deuba to the PM's post under Article 76 (5), President Bhandari had argued that Article 89 and Chapter 6 on Political Party would apply to those lawmakers who had sided with Deuba to replace Oli. The verdict will rest on how the apex court interprets this question.
The President disqualified both the claims arguing that some of the lawmakers had signatures backing both the contestants vying for the PM's post.
It is unclear whether the apex court will entertain the writ petitions filed by as many as 28 petitioners, including those from the PM's side. However, it is certain that the court will not be able to give its verdict well before May 29 when the budget is presented.
The writ petitioners will have no option other than to take part in the mid-term elections should the court clarify that Article 76 (5) has given discretionary powers to the President and that her decision is final.
Even if the House is reinstated once more, Deuba could become the next PM only if he wins the vote of confidence within 30 days of his appointment. By that time, CPN-UML leader and ousted PM Oli can expel 23 UML lawmakers for sabotaging him and his party, and Deuba's government would reduce to a minority. In that case, he may recommend the President for an early election. Going through all these political maneuverings, the ruling and opposition parties seem to have only one thing in mind, that is, who will conduct the next general election.
Clear the confusion
During normal times, the new academic session in the schools starts in April, but the pandemic has pushed the academic year till mid-June. Even then, many schools are not sure if they can finish the course of study within the extended period. While students at all levels have suffered as a result of the pandemic, those appearing for the Secondary Education Examination (SEE) are particularly troubled, not knowing if the exams will be held this time. Last year, schools were allowed to grade their students based on internal evaluation, which led to a record number of students passing with a 4.0 GPA.
The Minister for Education has hinted that there was a slim chance of the SEE being held this year, too.
He made this remark the other day while receiving a memorandum to start the new academic session from mid-June from a delegation of the student union affiliated to the ruling communist party. But the student union must understand that this time around, it is the virus that calls the shots. Since no one knows till when the virus will be around, the government must seriously think of alternative ways of teaching and evaluating students – a difficult task given the digital divide in the country.
A version of this article appears in the print on May 26, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.