The United States is a democratic country both in form and in substance, for no one, including its president, is above law. Its checks, balances, and institutions work effectively to keep the executive, legislative, and judicial branches within their limits and to protect citizens’ rights.
In contrast, Nepal looks democratic in form — some may call it an illiberal democracy — but not in substance. Checks, balances, and institutions exist, but they do not work on political leaders, especially at the top. To sustain democracy, we must make them work on all.
Here is what I mean. In the US, courts have rejected Trump’s several executive orders, including the travel ban on the citizens of six Muslim countries, as unconstitutional. Trump was furious, but nobody has moved an impeachment motion against the justices. The president cannot initiate it, and the bar for Congress to it is much higher than in Nepal.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is conducting a criminal investigation into Trump-Russia collusion that might have tipped the presidential election in his favor. Furious, Trump asked its Director James Comey to terminate the investigation and fired him when he refused. It has only motivated the FBI to widen and deepen the investigation and the Congressional committees looking into the matter to do the same.
Certainly, Trump will face impeachment if he himself or his campaign had colluded with Russia to benefit him, accepted money from Russia or promised undue favors if elected. Likewise, he will likely be impeached for the obstruction of justice for asking the FBI and the intelligence agencies (like CIA and NSA) to terminate the Russia investigation.
Bear in mind that Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton faced impeachment for the obstruction of justice. Nixon resigned and Clinton survived it.
Contrast this to the situation in Nepal. Our top leaders are not investigated and punished for committing any crime, including murder, or for obstructing the course of justice. They get rewards for their crime.
Dostoyevsky had given the title of Crime and Punishment to his most famous novel. But in Nepal, there are only crimes and rewards for influential political leaders.
Here are some examples of crimes and rewards.
Maoist leaders Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Baburam Bhattarai had given a written commitment to a foreign country to protect its interests in exchange for its support to them to harm Nepal through their armed insurgency. They became prime ministers. No investigation, no punishment for this treasonable crime.
A few Maoist murderers have become ministers and other high officials. Balkrishna Dhungel, the Maoist murder of Ujjan Shrestha, is ‘absconding’ under the nose of the police, thanks to the protection of senior leaders.
If they or their close supporters commit such heinous crimes as terrorism, murder, and rape, our top leaders treat such cases as political, so they are not filed with courts or withdrawn if they are already filed.
The latest example is the government’s decision to withdraw the cases against those who had killed several policemen and a child in cold blood in Tikapur. The perpetrators of such serious crimes will be further rewarded.
The leaders who had allegedly compromised Nepal’s interests in the Tanakpur Bund and the Mahakali Treaty retained their high posts; they were rewarded with repeated appointments to those posts.
The leaders who have allegedly accepted from foreign governments money, scholarships, free medical treatment, and other expensive gifts for them and their relatives in return for advancing policies favorable to such countries have become prime ministers and ministers. Crime and reward.
The leaders who have been shown in the media visiting foreign countries and asking publicly for their support to bread Nepal or change the constitution and law remain respected. Crime and reward.
Our leaders are some of the most corrupt in the world, but they continue thriving by obstructing justice without facing justice. Most of the current leaders who entered politics in poverty have become millionaires and billionaires within a decade without ever having a steady job or doing business. Transparency International finds the political sector more corrupt in Nepal than any other sector. But our politicians continue to rake in corrupt money and to thrive. Crime and reward.
Sure, some second-tier leaders have been jailed for corruption. It happened only because they had lost the blessings of their top leaders due to personal conflict. Sure, several leaders have corruption cases pending in courts, but they have used their supporters in the bar and in courts to defer their cases indefinitely, using all kinds of procedural obstructions.
When Chief Justice Sushila Karki began to demolish such artificial barriers and expedite such pending cases, our leaders struck back with an impeachment motion against her. This is a form of the obstruction of justice. I will come to it a little later.
Here is how our leaders thrive by obstructing justice. First, they appoint their loyalist to independent investigative bodies and courts, who would not poke their nose into their benefactor’s dirty closet. Such have been the recent appointments of Supreme Court justices, and heads and members of other constitutional bodies.
Second, they often appoint to such bodies people with a corrupt background who would have no moral standing to go after the top leaders’ corruption. For instance, Deep Basnyat, the recently appointed chief of Commission to Investigate Abuse of Authority (CIAA), has a corruption case in the Supreme Court. It does not mean Basnyat is guilty until proven, but it means he should not have been appointed at all until he was cleared.
Third, if some officials of such bodies begin to demonstrate their independence, as they should, our top leaders take no time to move the impeachment motion against them and get them suspended immediately.
I have already given the example of Chief Justice Sushila Karki. Our leaders had also moved an impeachment motion against the then chief of CIAA Lokman Karki when he began to look into the complaints and evidence about our top leaders’ corruption.
Our leaders have hung the Damocles sword of impeachment over the officials of independent constitutional bodies to protect themselves, so they can continue committing crimes with impunity. For instance, the constitution drafted by them says one-fourth members of parliament can move an impeachment motion against such officials, and as soon as a note to this effect is submitted to the Speaker of the House, the official in question is suspended.
Unlike in the US, the bar for it is very low in Nepal. The constitution has not laid down any provision for the preliminary examination of the charges against constitutional officials by an independent mechanism before triggering the impeachment motion.
Do you think our leaders will ever face the kind of criminal investigation US President Trump and his team members are facing now? Probably, not in my lifetime.
Prime ministers will come and go. Pushpa Kamal Dahal has resigned on 24 May 2017 to pave the way for another, under a secret agreement. But their secret and unwritten agreements to break or evade the law and protect each other from justice will stay with us. The crime and reward will continue. So Nepal will remain a democracy only in form if at all, not in substance. That is a pity.