Jony Mainaly is JURIST’s Staff Correspondent in Nepal. She files this from Kathmandu.
Nepal’s Supreme Court Friday declared deputy prime minister and home minister Rabi Lamichhane’s Nepali citizenship invalid and therefore nullified his election to the House of Representatives in the November 2022 election. The decision has caused him to resign from his position as deputy prime minister and home minister. He also resigned as president of his newly formed political party, Rastriya Swatantra Party (RSP).
Hearing a writ petition filed against Mr. Lamichhane, the Supreme Court found that he had not followed due process to re-acquire his Nepali citizenship, as per the law, after he previously renounced his US citizenship.
Apart from the issue of jurisdiction, the court found two questions to settle in its final ruling. (i) whether or not Mr. Lamichhane followed the required process to re-acquire Nepali citizenship after relinquishing his US citizenship, (ii) Whether or not his candidacy in the November 2022 election as a Member of Parliament with the citizenship that no longer is valid after his acquisition of American citizenship is constitutionally and legally valid.
Mr. Lamichhane, a former TV presenter, received his Nepali citizenship certificate in 1993. In 2014, he obtained US citizenship. Section 10 (1) of Nepal’s Citizenship Act, 2006 provides that any Nepali citizen who voluntarily acquires citizenship of a foreign country will automatically lose Nepali citizenship. In 2018, Mr. Lamichhane renounced his US citizenship but has not adopted the process to re-acquire Nepali citizenship as per Section 11 of the Act.
Based on the 1993 citizenship certificate, Mr. Lamichhane contested the national election in November 2022 and won the same. The court ruled that since Mr. Lamichhane has not completed the citizenship re-acquisition process as per Section 11 of the Citizenship Act, 2006, he was not eligible to be a candidate for the election. Nepal’s Constitution in Article 87(1) and Section 12 of the Election Act, 2017 provides, “being a citizen of Nepal” as one of the qualifications to become a member of the parliament. Hence the decision annuls his candidacy and his Member of Parliament position.
Lamichhane and his RSP rose to spectacular heights in the last few months. Five months after he established RSP, it got impressive results in the November election. The party became the fourth largest party in the Parliament with 20 elected members.
People’s confidence in the new political party, many argue, has two reasons—Mr. Lamichhane’s media fame and people’s discontent with traditional Nepali political leadership. Mr. Lamichhane voiced against corruption and government irregularities and intoned a people’s agenda through his popular television show. The voices to boycott tried and tested leadership were strong during the November election. The emergence of a new political party with new and seemingly competent faces led by their favorite TV presenter gave RSP a very positive election outcome.
However, many were skeptical of the party’s decision to join the coalition government sharing the stage with the same tried and tested leaders that he was very critical about. More concerning was the fact that Mr. Lamichhane, whose citizenship was under investigation, took on a conflicted Home Minister position as it is the agency that is entrusted with investigation authority. He seemed to compromise the issues of legality and morality that he voiced during his TV shows.
The question now remains, what happens next? Mr. Lamichhane can acquire his Nepali citizenship certificate by completing the process required by law. The election constituency that he won election from will have a by-election. With the valid citizenship certificate, he can again offer his candidature for the same and perform as per the election result. However, there are reports that Mr. Lamichhane made a Nepali passport with his 1993 citizenship while in possession of his US passport. Dual citizenship is not allowed by Nepali law and is a criminal offense. If this investigation concludes that he was in a possession of dual citizenship, then he may be held criminally liable and barred from holding any office in the future.
Whatever the future has in store for Mr. Lamichhane, this is unfortunate for Nepalese awaiting change.