Question of ‘if’

Nineteen out of the remaining 38 members—nine of the CPN-UML, seven of the Nepali Congress and three royal nominees—of the 60-member National Assembly (NA), retired on June 26. After the dissolution of the Lower House in May 2002, the country has been run without the people’s mandate, which is necessary under the 1990 Constitution. In the absence of the more important chamber, the Upper House should have assumed greater importance, but successive non-elected governments have simply ignored it by denying it any role at all. The retiring MPs spent the second half of their six-year term without any legislative business to transact. With the last batch of 19 MPs retiring in two years, there will be no vestiges even of a nominal chamber in the country.

Most of the retiring members accused the three prime ministers — Sher Bahadur Deuba, Lokendra Bahadur Chand and Surya Bahadur Thapa — of ignoring their calls for the activation of the National Assembly to maintain a semblance of constitutional order. But none of the prime ministers showed any interest in summoning a single session of the Upper House. Whenever any representations were made to the prime minister on the matter, he said that he would consider it. Perhaps the voices of the NA members had not been powerful enough.

But strangely, most of the political parties did not push the demand, though the CPN-UML, the NC-D and the RPP had been in power at various times. A reason for their lack of interest was obviously their desire to hold on to power under Article 127. According to Article 46 (2) of the Constitution, “The National Assembly shall be a permanent House...”, but its vanishing process only goes towards making the breakdown of the Constitution complete. Unfortunately, the tendency of those in power to take the Constitution lightly and apply it according to their convenience through crude interpretations of it has been mainly responsible for much of the present constitutional disarray and the political deadlock in the country. If the Upper House had not been ignored, who knows things might have been better. But, at the same time, the treatment meted out to the Upper House also raises doubts whether those in power are serious about restoring the constitutional process.