Kathmandu: Nepal's Supreme Court on Friday disqualified Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister Rabi Lamichhane from his posts after he was found guilty of producing an 'invalid' citizenship certificate to contest the recent general elections.
The minister tendered his resignation to Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal aka Prachanda after the apex court verdict. The verdict was pronounced by a Constitutional Bench of the Nepal SC headed by Acting Chief Justice Hari Krishna Karki. The other Justices on the bench were Justices Bishowambhar Prasad Shrestha, Ishwar Khatiwada, Ananda Mohan Bhattarai and Anil Sinha.
"As Rabi Lamichhane has not completed the process for reacquiring his Nepali citizenship after renouncing his American citizenship, he cannot be a candidate for the position of a member of the House of Representatives or be elected to that position," read the Supreme Court verdict on Friday.
"After giving up the US citizenship, Lamichhane was not found adhering to the legal process to acquire Nepali citizenship again. So, he did not deserve to be the candidate of the member of the House of Representatives nor could hold the lawmaker's post," the Bench ruled further.
"With this, a certiorari order is issued as per Article 133 (b and c) and Article 137 of the Constitution of Nepal by scrapping all activities making Lamichhane an election candidate, announcing his election victory, and conferring him the certificate," the apex court said.
Speaking to reporters on Friday evening while walking out of the Ministry of Home Affairs, post the Supreme Court verdict, Lamichhane said, "As a noncitizen, I have nothing left to say."
However, he said he welcomes the decision of the country's apex court. "I welcome and accept the SC's decision," he said.
He said he had absolutely no idea what his status and the future move would be. He also added that he no longer was the Chairman of Rastriya Swatantra Party.
A television personality-turned-politician, Lamichhane was declared stateless as he does not have any official documents to attest to his nationality.
Following the verdict, Lamichhane also lost his post of chairman of the Rastriya Swatantra Party (RSP), along with that of the Deputy Prime Minister, Home minister and a lawmaker.
Lamichhane was appointed Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister on December 25, last year.
Nepal is currently ruled by a five-party alliance comprising CPN-UML, CPN Maoist Center, RSP (Lamichhane's party), Janata Samajbadi Party, and the Nagarik Unmukti Party.
Lamichhane's party had won a total of 20 seats in the general elections held in November, last year. With him now disqualified as a lawmaker, the RSP tally in the Nepalese parliament has now dropped to 19. However, it retains the fourth position in terms of the seats it holds in the parliament.
While pronouncing the verdict on Friday, the SC said Lamichhane can reacquire citizenship by following due process, which requires filling out an application before the District Administration Office.
On December 14, advocates Yubaraj Poudel and Rabiraj Basaula filed a writ petition with the Supreme Court arguing that Lamichhane cannot remain a member of parliament ae he does not have Nepalese citizenship.
The petitioners demanded that Lamichhane be removed from the post of party chief. They said that only Nepalese citizens have a constitutional right to vote in the elections, become candidates or launch a political party in the country.
The petitioners further contended that Lamichhane's posts as a member of the lower House of the parliament and the party president were illegal.
Though the wrist petition, they further demanded that the Supreme Court issue an interim order to stop Lamichhane from working as a lawmaker until the final verdict. During an initial hearing on the plea, the apex court, on January 6 refused to issue an interim order and decided to pronounce a final verdict.
According to Section 10 of the country's Citizenship Act, any Nepalese citizen, who voluntarily acquires citizenship of any foreign country, will automatically lose his citizenship of the Himalayan country.
He returned to Nepal a few months after becoming an American citizen and started working in the country.
After four years, a complaint was lodged with the Press Council Nepal claiming that he was working in the esrtwhile kingdom without a work permit. According to the laws of the land, a foreign national needs a permit to work in Nepal.
Facing criticism over his dubious citizenship status, Lamichhane surrendered his American citizenship in May 2018 and submitted a proof of the same before the Department of Immigration.
However, he did not foirmally apply with the authorities concened to reclaim his Nepalese citizenship.
Lamichhane's lawyers had argued that as he never renounced Nepalese citizenship, it was automatically from 1994, on the day he surrendered his American Citizenship.
However, Section 11 of the Citizenship Act says if any Nepalese citizen, who has acquired foreign citizenship, returns to his homeland and submits a notification to the designated authority, the evidence of renunciation of foreign citizenship, and his/her Nepali citizenship shall be provided again once he/she submits evidence to support renunciation.
An application needs to be submitted to the office concrned to reclaim Nepalese citizenship, as per the Act.
Clause 11 of the regulation to the Act says a person, who has renounced foreign citizenship, should apply with the Ministry of Home Affairs or the District Administration Office concerned to reclaim it. The authority, after studying the application, would issue a certificate of Nepalese citizenship containing the same details mentioned in the previous document.
The copy of the citizenship he had produced to file his nomination for the polls was issued in 1994.