Covid-19 has thrown the already turbulent political scene in Nepal into further disarray, as the embattled top judge of its highest court has been hospitalized to treat an infection.
Cholendra Shumsher Rana, chief justice of Nepal’s Supreme Court, tested positive for the coronavirus on Monday evening, said Dr. Prabin Nepal, a spokesman for the Armed Police Force Hospital outside the capital, Kathmandu. The chief justice also had pneumonia but was in stable condition, Dr. Nepal said.
Mr. Rana has been hospitalized just as he faces growing pressure to resign over corruption accusations. He has denied any wrongdoing and has said he would not resign.
The chief justice has been a central figure in the political turmoil within the top government ranks in Nepal, a Himalayan country hit hard economically by the coronavirus. Lockdowns and other restrictions have cut into remittances from Nepalis working abroad, while tourism revenue from climbers seeking to scale Mount Everest and other peaks has come back only slowly.
Officially, more than 11,520 people have died from Covid-19 in Nepal.
Mr. Rana was once considered an ally of former Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli. But twice this year, in February and July, the Supreme Court under Mr. Rana overturned efforts by Mr. Oli to dissolve the Parliament and hold early elections. The second time, the court installed the opposition leader Sher Bahadur Deuba as prime minister.
Mr. Rana’s ties with the new government have since come under scrutiny. Court lawyers and other judges have accused him of maneuvering to get loyalists appointed to key constitutional bodies and to the cabinet. One of his relatives, Gajendra Hamal, resigned within a few days of his appointment as a minister in the face of a public outcry, although he denied any impropriety.
Mr. Rana’s critics also accused him of steering certain cases toward judges inclined to make rulings in line with his own preferences. Members of Nepal’s bar association boycotted the court, and after pressure from frustrated members of Nepal’s ruling coalition, Mr. Rana agreed to support a lottery system to assign judges to cases.
Court watchers in Nepal said there was a good chance that Mr. Rana would not return to the bench.
“Given the context, I don’t think he will be back to court,” said Dinesh Tripathi, a senior advocate at the Supreme Court. “Instead, corona could be a way of his graceful exit.”