End­ing the Stale­mate

Southasia - - Contents -

Nepal has been fac­ing a po­lit­i­cal dead­lock since May 2010 when Prime Min­is­ter Babu­ram Bhat­taria dis­solved the Con­stituent Assem­bly af­ter it failed to for­mu­late the con­sti­tu­tion. This ended four doubt­ful years of draft­ing a con­sti­tu­tion. Po­lit­i­cal quar­ters called for the govern­ment to for­mu­late a new con­sti­tu­tion and hold elec­tions at the ear­li­est. With lead­ers un­able to agree upon a prime min­is­ter and with the po­lit­i­cal and le­gal vac­uum loom­ing over Nepal, Pres­i­dent Ram Baran Ya­dav swore in Chief Jus­tice Khil Raj Regmi as the new prime min­is­ter in March to lead the in­terim govern­ment.

This is the first time in Nepalese po­lit­i­cal his­tory that a sit­ting Chief Jus­tice has be­come the head of the govern­ment. Chief Jus­tice Regmi will serve dual posts as the Prime Min­is­ter and the Chief Jus­tice of Nepal un­til elec­tions take place on June 21. The elected mem­bers of the leg­is­la­ture will also func­tion as the Con­stituent Assem­bly with the task of for­mu­lat­ing a new con­sti­tu­tion.

Nepal’s fu­ture re­mains bleak even with Chief Jus­tice Regmi now serv­ing as the in­terim Prime Min­is­ter. The ma­jor po­lit­i­cal par­ties have their reser­va­tions re­gard­ing Regmi’s rise to premier­ship; many con­sider it an un­con­sti­tu­tional move. The Pres­i­dent of the Nepal Bar As­so­ci­a­tion, Hari Kr­ishna Karki, ar­gued that ap­point­ing Jus­tice Regmi was against the prin­ci­ples of con­sti­tu­tion­al­ism and sep­a­ra­tion of pow­ers in a democ­racy. A sep­a­ratist Maoist fac­tion called for a gen­eral strike against Jus­tice Regmi’s ap­point­ment and pro­tes­tors clashed with the po­lice out­side the pres­i­den­tial palace while he was tak­ing his oath of of­fice. For­mer law­mak­ers of the pre­vi­ous Con­stituent Assem­bly also feel that the Khila Raj Regmi-led elec­tion govern­ment is non-po­lit­i­cal. The CPN-Maoist led al­liance is also press­ing for the for­ma­tion of a con­sen­sus govern­ment. More­over, the op­po­si­tion be­lieves that the ap­point­ment of Jus­tice Regmi will only dis­turb the po­lit­i­cal struc­ture of the coun­try whose fu­ture al­ready hangs in the bal­ance. Po­lit­i­cal fac­tions have filed le­gal chal­lenges in the court re­gard­ing the le­gal­ity of the Chief Jus­tice serv­ing si­mul­ta­ne­ously as the Prime Min­is­ter.

The cur­rent po­lit­i­cal vac­uum in Nepal dates back to 2008 when the coun­try abol­ished the 239-year-old monar­chy and the po­lit­i­cal par­ties went into a tus­sle over the for­mu­la­tion of a new con­sti­tu­tion. In May 2010, the then Prime Min­is­ter, Babu­ram Bhat­tarai dis­solved the Con­stituent Assem­bly af­ter it was not able to de­cide how much power the coun­try’s re­gions would en­joy in the post-monar­chy era and was un­able to write a con­sti­tu­tion.

Caught in the midst of po­lit­i­cal tran­si­tion, it might take a few years be­fore Kath­mandu can adapt to this po­lit­i­cal change and work as the cap­i­tal of a fed­eral repub­lic. How­ever, with Chief Jus­tice Regmi in power, an­a­lysts pre­dict that the ju­di­ciary will take an ac­tive part in pre­par­ing the con­sti­tu­tion.

Nu­mer­ous politi­cians and leg­is­la­tors be­lieve that the much-awaited con­sti­tu­tion will fi­nally take shape and end the po­lit­i­cal dead­lock that has cre­ated con­fu­sion among po­lit­i­cal par­ties. How­ever, politi­cians op­pos­ing Jus­tice Regmi as the pre­mier, say that since the Prime Min­is­ter truly runs the govern­ment, Jus­tice Regmi might ex­er­cise his pow­ers in the func­tion­ing of the state - a pos­si­bil­ity that could se­ri­ously desta­bi­lize the coun­try. How­ever, mem­bers of the rul­ing Maoist party were the first to sug­gest that Jus­tice Regmi should get the in­terim post and they be­lieve that only Regmi can bring Nepal out of its many predica­ments.

Nepal’s po­lit­i­cal his­tory has played a key role in keep­ing demo­cratic forces at bay. Fol­low­ing the end of the civil war in 2006, the Maoists be­came a rec­og­nized politi-

cal party that guar­an­teed to pro­mote the peace process and elec­tions, for­mu­late a con­sti­tu­tion, abol­ish Nepal’s monar­chy and in­te­grate the national armed forces with the Maoist rebel army. How­ever, the new­born fed­eral set-up of the coun­try swayed the govern­ment from func­tion­ing prop­erly where the di­vi­sion of power be­tween re­gions led to po­lit­i­cal sti- fling among ma­jor par­ties. Elec­tions, which were set to take place in Novem­ber 2012, were con­se­quently de­ferred to June 2013.

The po­lit­i­cal par­ties of Nepal have reached a con­sen­sus on four key is­sues with the newly formed in­terim govern­ment. Th­ese in­clude form­ing a Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Com­mis­sion for pro­vid­ing tran­si­tional jus­tice, pro- mot­ing Maoist com­bat­ants in­cluded in the Nepal army to the post of Colonel and Lt. Colonel, up­dat­ing the vot­ers’ list be­fore the Con­stituent Assem­bly elec­tions and re­solv­ing the is­sues of cit­i­zen­ship cer­tifi­cate dis­tri­bu­tion.

Al­though elec­tions are set to take place on June 21, po­lit­i­cal par­ties might post­pone them un­til De­cem­ber if the sit­u­a­tion re­mains un­fa­vor­able. The Pres­i­dent of the Nepali Congress, Sushil Koirala, is cer­tain that the govern­ment, led by the Chief Jus­tice, would re­solve the po­lit­i­cal im­passe and strengthen democ­racy in Nepal. The Nepalese politi­cians who sup­port Jus­tice Regmi are of the view that a fresh elec­tion man­date will pre­serve the demo­cratic process and en­sure peo­ple’s par­tic­i­pa­tion. In ad­di­tion, ma­jor par­ties such as the Uni­fied Com­mu­nist Party of Nepal (Maoist), Com­mu­nist Party of Nepal ( Uni­fied Marx­ist-Lenin­ist) (CPN UML), and the Nepali Congress have agreed to write a con­sti­tu­tion to re­place the in­terim govern­ment.

Regmi, who is also the Chair­man of the In­terim Elec­tion Coun­cil, has big shoes to fill if he is eye­ing free and in­de­pen­dent polls. If his ten­ure does not usher in democ­racy in Nepal, there is a fair chance that the coun­try might lose con­fi­dence in the ju­di­ciary – a sit­u­a­tion that no po­lit­i­cal party wants.

Al­though Khil Raj Regmi is fac­ing op­po­si­tion from Nepalese lead­ers and for­mer law­mak­ers, the West, in­clud­ing the U.S, UN and the UK has wel­comed his ap­point­ment. If the U.S and the UN are sat­is­fied with Regmi’s new role as Prime Min­is­ter, then the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity is in fa­vor of Nepal be­com­ing a fed­eral repub­lic and wishes to see Nepal leave be­hind its his­tory of monar­chy-based govern­ment for good. Muhammad Omar Iftikhar is As­sis­tant Edi­tor at SouthAsia. He writes on re­gional is­sues and so­cial ac­tivism.

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