Nepalese President Bidya Devi Bhandari rejects citizenship amendment bill, experts call it a ‘serious blow’
Nepal’s President Bidya Devi Bhandari has refused to sign a key bill to amend Nepal’s citizenship law on time, which has been twice approved by both houses of parliament, a decision described by constitutional experts as a serious blow to the Constitution.
A senior official in the president’s office, Bhesh Raj Adhikari, said the bill had not been signed by midnight on Tuesday – the deadline to authenticate the bill reapproved by both the House of Representatives and the National Assembly – after the President sent earlier he recalls that the Parliament asked to reconsider the bill in accordance with the Constitution.
President Agni Prasad Sapkota, who on September 5 had recertified the Amendment Bill, sent it to Bhandari for authentication.
The president, however, did not approve the bill within the 15-day constitutionally mandated time limit for certification.
The second amendment to the Citizenship Act was intended to address the concerns of Madhesh-centered parties and the Non-Resident Nepalese Association.
The rejection of the bill affected at least half a million stateless people awaiting its passage to obtain their national identity cards.
The draft law which defines the right to citizenship on the basis of matrimonial grounds and guarantees non-voting citizenship to non-resident Nepalese living in non-SAARC member countries has come under criticism from certain sectors of society, citing that it does not prevent foreign women from marrying Nepalese men. easily obtain citizenship.
Dinesh Tripathi, constitutional expert and lawyer, said: “This is a serious blow to the Constitution.”
“The Constitution has been hijacked, the president has acted outside the Constitution,” Tripathi said.
“We are now facing a deep constitutional crisis. The president cannot go against the parliament. It is the duty of the president to authenticate the bill passed by the parliament. The whole constitutional process has now been derailed,” Tripathi said, adding that “only the Supreme Court” has the power to interpret the Constitution, not the President.
A provision of Article 113(4) of the Nepalese Constitution states that the President must certify the bill if it has been returned for authentication.
The bill, which was first sent for authentication on August 1, has been returned to parliament for reconsideration.
However, both houses of parliament re-approved the bill without making changes and sent it back to the president again.
According to the president’s office, Bhandari’s decision is constitutional.
“The president acted in accordance with the Constitution,” said Lalbabu Yadav, political affairs adviser to the president. “The bill violated various constitutional provisions and the president has a responsibility to protect it.”
Political parties are also divided as the ruling Nepalese Congress coalition – CPN (Maoist Centre), CPN (United Socialist), Janata Samajbadi Party and Rashtriya Janamorcha, except Loktantrik Samajbadi Party – are in favor of the bill, while the main opposition party, the CPN-UML, supported the president’s call for its thorough consideration.
The Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist) (CPN-UML), expressing reservations against the bill, said it was not in the interest of the country.
Legal experts said the president had no right to overrule the decision of the executive and parliament, which amounts to a “pocket veto”.
“It is not for the constitutional president to review the constitutionality of the bill. Such a concern will be tested by the constitutional bench of the Supreme Court,” said lead attorney Chandra Kanta Gyawali, who is also a constitutional expert.
“If the bill creates a problem, all the blame will go to the political parties and the government.”
The Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court can, however, issue a mandamus to the president if someone files a motion for an order, requiring him to authenticate the bill.
A bill, passed by both Houses of Parliament, only becomes law after it has obtained presidential signature.
Legal experts, political leaders and analysts condemning the president’s action said it would set a bad precedent and cause irreparable damage to the Constitution.
Former Supreme Court Justice Balaram KC said: “According to the constitution, she can only send the bill back to the House of Representatives for consideration, which she did. Now she has no more only two options: either sign or resign.
“The Constitution does not allow the president to refuse to authenticate the bill,” said Upendra Yadav, chairman of the Janata Samajbadi party, a voter in the ruling coalition.
“If it does not act in accordance with the constitution, the alliance will decide its next step at its meeting on Wednesday.”
Minister Bahadur Bishwakarma, a leader in Nepal’s Congress, said the president’s refusal to authenticate the bill was “unnatural conduct” on the part of the head of state and a flagrant violation of the Constitution.
“When the president, vice president or members of a constitutional body violate the Constitution, they can be impeached. However, the option of impeachment is out of the question now as Parliament’s term has just ended,” Bishwakarma told the Kathmandu Post.
Jitendra Sonal, a Loktantrik Samajbadi (LSP) party leader, said his party would launch street protests if the president actually refused to authenticate the citizenship bill.
(With PTI inputs)