Originally Published 2013-03-14 00:00:00 Published on Mar 14, 2013
Nepal's Chief Justice Khil Raj Regmi has been appointed the Head of the interim government. His main mandate is to hold elections for the CA. But 22 opposition political parties have begun their protest programmes against the new government, raising doubts whether polls can be held in June this year.
CJ becomes now Govt Head in Nepal: But will he be able to hold polls in June?
Finally, Chief Justice of Nepal, Khil Raj Regmi, has been sworn in as the head of the interim government of the country. Still it is unclear whether his appointment on March 14 is equivalent to the post of prime minister. Regmi will head a 11-member Interim Election Council as its chairman. He has also not resigned from the post of CJ.

The interim Cabinet will have 11 members consisting of retired senior bureaucrats. So far, Regmi has chosen former Chief Secretary Madhav Prasad Ghimire as the Foreign Minister and Home Minister and another former bureaucrat Hari Prasad Neupane as the Minister for Law and Justice and Minister for Labour and Transport Management.

Leaders of the major political parties had signed a 11-point agreement late Wednesday night to form an election government headed by the CJ. The non-partisan government has been entrusted with the responsibility of conducting new Constituent Assembly (CA) elections by June 21, 2013. But its mandate can extend till the end of December. As per the deal, the CJ-led government would get a second term till December 15 if it fails to hold the elections due to 'any technical or untoward situation'. It stated that Regmi would be relieved of the top executive post once a new prime minister is picked, though it is silent on whether the second term would also be the CJ's last one.

The leaders of the four major parties -United CPN (Maoist), Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and the Samyukta Loktantrik Madhesi Morcha (SLMM) -have termed the new political set-up "a solution to the prolonged political deadlock, which has opened doors for holding the next elections and provided an opportunity for reviving the constitution making process." The outgoing Deputy Prime Minister Narayan Kaji Shrestha termed the Wednesday night agreement an important step to end the political deadlock and hold elections.

The new deal has come 10 months after the demise of the CA in May 2012. The parties had started discussions on a CJ-led government just last month as the "last option." The proposal was announced by Maoist Chairman Prachanda after the party's General Convention last month. The deal was delayed after top party leaders failed to strike agreement on key components of a package deal, which among others, included citizenship distribution, voters roll update and issues related to the integration process of the former Maoist combatants.

The agreement stated that the new CA will have 491 members. Of these, 240 members will be elected under the first-past-the-post electoral system and 240 will be elected under proportional representative quotas while another 11 members will be nominated by the cabinet on the basis of political agreement.

On determining the ranks of former Maoist combatants who have joined the Nepal Army (NA), the leaders have agreed to allow one colonel and two lieutenant colonels to the former Maoist combatants. However, the written agreement has only stated that the issue of determining the rank of former Maoist combatants would be decided as per political agreements reached in the past.

On the row over the key provision of the proposed Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), the leaders have decided not to include any provision on general amnesty for those involved in human rights violations during the decade-long Maoist insurgency. The present government submitted an ordinance on the TRC to the President, but the latter has shelved it, citing the objection of opposition parties. The opposition parties have strongly objected to the provision on blanket amnesty for those involved in serious human rights violations during the conflict period.

As for voters' registration, the leaders decided to take the voters' list used during the 2008 CA election as a major basis and run a citizenship distribution campaign with a view to cover those who couldn't be registered due to lack of citizenship certificates.

The leaders have also committed themselves to holding elections for local bodies by mid-April 2014. The last poll for local bodies took place around 15 years ago. In addition, the leaders agreed that the appointments to vacant posts in the constitutional bodies and the posts of ambassadors will be based on political understanding.

After signing the 11-point agreement, the major political parties also forwarded a 24-point proposal on clearing constitutional hurdles for formation of a new election government to the President. The President's office has urged the Supreme Court to quash the writ petition filed at the Court against the move to appoint the CJ as the executive head. The hearing was scheduled to begin today (March 14).

Meanwhile, 22 opposition political parties, including the Mohan Baidhya-led CPN-Maoist, have begun their protest programmes from Thursday morning against the formation of election government under the sitting CJ. CPN-Maoist Vice Chairman CP Gajurel and General Secretary Ram Bahadur Thapa were seen leading the crowd that gathered outside the President's official residence in Kathmandu. The protestors clashed with police while chanting slogans against the chief justice-led government. Some of the demonstrators were detained by police during the scuffle.

The Baidya faction along with some civil society groups and the Nepal Bar Association (NBA) has been opposing such an arrangement as it stands against the principle of separation of power. The NBA has termed Wednesday as a ´black day´ in the democratic history of the country. The Interim Constitution 2007 clearly states that a sitting CJ cannot hold any executive position. Some Nepali Congress leaders have demanded immediate resignation of the CJ. The CPN-UML is also sharply divided over the decision.

In the face of strong opposition, it is doubtful whether the proposed polls will be held by June this year. There are serious concerns that the CJ-led government may not save the county from the constitutional and political crisis due to strong resistance cutting across party line. There are mounting challenges, the ones which last five governments could not resolve in five years.

Most importantly, the new agreement is silent over the issue of state restructuring over which all consensus broke down and which led to dissolution of the last CA. It can be a game spoiler once again as parties have chosen to leave this issue completely out of the new deal.

(The writer is an Associate Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

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