Eight months after the Constituent Assembly lapsed without writing a constitution, Nepal’s major political parties have agreed to form an election government led by the Chief Justice to hold new Constituent Assembly elections. The negotiations held on Thursday evening at President Ram Baran Yadav’s residence decided to replace Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai, with Chief Justice Khil Raj Regmi. A working group with members from the Nepali Congress, United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), Communist Party of Nepal-United Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) and the Samyukta Loktantrik Madhesi Morcha has been formed to determine the modalities of the new government.
The agreement fulfills the long-standing demand of the opposition parties — primarily the Nepali Congress (NC) and the CPN-UML — that the Bhattarai government should make way for an election government. The ruling UCPN (Maoist) and the Madhesi Morcha have refused to accept Nepali Congress president Sushil Koirala as Prime Minister. The parties needed to strike a quick agreement to hold elections by May before the onset of monsoon.
The proposal to appoint the Chief Justice was floated by the UCPN (Maoist) Chairperson Pushpa Kamal Dahal “Prachanda” during the party’s general convention two week ago. Mr. Prachanda called it an “irresistible formula” to break the deadlock. The proposal came after months of efforts to hammer a consensus prime ministerial candidate failed.
With the end of the Constituent Assembly on May 27, the political process has been stuck over government formation, eclipsing the larger constitutional issues, especially those related to federalism. The opposition parties outright rejected Mr. Bhattarai’s declaration for election to be held on November 22, after which President Ram Baran Yadav issued half a dozen deadlines — none of which was successful — to form a national unity government.
Separation of powers
The proposal to appoint Mr. Regmi has drawn sharp reactions, with some leaders from the opposition terming it a Maoist ploy to influence the judiciary by violating the principle of separation of powers. On Thursday, the newly-elected office bearers of Nepal Bar Association urged Mr. Regmi to reject the proposal. Mr. Regmi, however, has remained tight lipped.
The ruling Maoist party maintains that the Chief Justice is a proper neutral candidate to conduct elections. Defending the proposal, the Mr. Bhattarai on Friday tweeted that the “sitting CJ is institution, not individual, which is regarded world over as most impartial, free & fair. This does not apply to ex-CJs.”
First of its kind in Nepal’s history, the Chief Justice-led government is likely to be called “a central advisory council” or an “election council”.
In addition, to guide Mr. Regmi’s team — which is likely to comprise ex-bureaucrats and members of civil society — the parties plan to create a political structure made up of top leaders of four major political forces.
There are, however, fears that the CJ-led government will further complicate the political process.
According to Purna Man Shakya, a constitutional lawyer, the legitimacy of the new government will not be based on the constitution, since it has no provision to change government in the absence of Parliament. Rather, it will have to be based on political consensus and the President’s powers to “remove obstacles”.