18-24 November 2016 #833

The charade of impeachment

As Parliament dilly-dallies, the Supreme Court presses ahead against Lokman Singh Karki
Binita Dahal
Bhanu Bhattarai

Three weeks ago when one-fourth of parliamentarians signed an impeachment motion against the anti-corruption czar, Lokman Singh Karki, there was a brief period of optimism that the House was finally getting serious. Hope rose that the man who had extorted businesses, terrorised journalists and activists, and silenced bureaucrats and politicians was finally going to be facing the music.   To be sure, there was something unexpected about the way the impeachment motion was hurriedly registered the evening that Karki was returning to Nepal after a prolonged vacation last month. Even more unbelievable was how the Maoist-Centre, a member of the coalition government, and the opposition UML tabled the motion. 

However, the Nepali Congress became the fly in the ointment. Although party president Sher Bahadur Deuba had at first given a tacit nod to Karki’s impeachment, and Health Minister Gagan Thapa led the charge, the rest of the party opposed the move. After returning from a visit to India, however, Deuba has suddenly gone all quiet. And in recent days some NC MPs have been vocally defending Karki, and his cronies are actively lobbying to delay the impeachment process. 

Karki remains suspended from his position as chief of the CIAA (Commission for the Investigation of the Abuse of Authority), and faces another case in the Supreme Court that questions his appointment. He tried to ignore the summons when Supreme Court staff went to his house to paste the notice. The Court summoned him to be present in person for clarification, and Karki finally appeared before the judge on Tuesday with a written clarification. 

Karki seems to be more worried about the Supreme Court hearing than the impeachment process in Parliament. This must be because he knows that the impeachment proposal was registered by the one-fourth parliamentarians only after leaders of all three parties suspected that he was going to target them. After all, the top leaders had all agreed to appoint him CIAA chief during the tenure of Chief Justice Khil Raj Regmi as head of the council of ministers in 2013. There are dark whisperings about how powerful people and entities lobbied on behalf of Karki at that time. 

Karki knows that politicians in Nepal are fickle and can easily be persuaded to change their mind about impeachment by Parliament. In fact, that already seems to be happening as Maoist-Centre Chair and Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal told a television talk show this week that the impeachment motion was brought in all of a sudden without his consent, and that there first needed to be a consensus among all three parties on it.

In fact, the political parties and most of their MPs seem to have gone cold on impeachment, preferring to let the Supreme Court take the lead on the matter. This dilly-dallying and wait-and-watch policy is almost as mysterious as the registration of the impeachment motion itself. Nothing, as they say, is certain in love and politics. 

What the politicians should realise is that this is not about Karki, but a matter of principle. Do they have the political will to investigate the truth or not? Or are they so complicit in his appointment that the whole impeachment call is a charade? 

The Supreme Court is due to start hearing all cases against Karki on 1 December. The hearings will also perhaps reveal why top politicians as well as President Ram Baran Yadav agreed to his appointment and to what extent, as is widely believed, foreign intelligence handlers were complicit. To add to the drama this week, the Karki-less CIAA announced it had started investigations on police officers and bureaucrats reported to be close to its former chief and were his accomplices in his abuse of authority. 

While the impeachment motion is debated in Parliament and the Supreme Court prepares for its hearings against Karki, the big fear is that the investigation on alleged embezzlement of funds meant for ex-guerrillas in the Maoist camps will be shelved. Which is why Prime Minister Dahal does not want to be too harsh on Karki, remembering his bitter experience with the sacking of Army Chief Rookmangud Katawal which led to his resignation from his first prime ministership in 2009. 

Meanwhile, prime minister-in-waiting Sher Bahadur Deuba, does not want to risk an internal party mutiny by going after Karki. 

Having said that, the impeachment motion is now being played out in public and the people are closely scrutinising how their elected representatives will respond to a tainted individual. All eyes are on Parliament as it decides whether to impeach Karki, or give him a clean chit in the first case of its kind in Nepal.

Read also

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