Nepal Chief Justice’s decision welcomed by parties
After three weeks of speculation on whether he is willing to become Nepal’s next Prime Minister, Chief Justice Khil Raj Regmi made it clear on Monday that he has no objections to such a plan.
A press release from the Supreme Court made at the behest of the Chief Justice said that he was open to the idea of heading a Council of Ministers. A meeting of four parties rooting for Mr. Regmi’s leadership welcomed the press release as a step forward towards forming a new government to hold elections by June.
“This makes three things clear: Prime Minister Bhattarai is willing to step down for elections; the Chief Justice is open to head an election government; and the parties are committed to hold elections in June,” said Khimlal Devkota, a member of United Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-Maoist), who has been active in the negotiations.
The Supreme Court’s statement came after his consultations with Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai, who had been instructed by the party leaders to persuade Mr. Regmi, on Sunday night.
Ever since the proposal to form an interim government was announced by UCPN-M Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ earlier this month, there have been concerted efforts by four political forces — UCPN (Maoist); Nepali Congress; Communist Party of Nepal-United Marxist Leninists (CPN-UML); and United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF) — to reach a deal on elections and persuade Mr. Regmi to accept the position.
Mr. Regmi had demurred so far, unhappy with the party plans to limit his term to last until June, and form a political mechanism to oversee his tenure.
Negotiators say that those terms have been loosened to allow him stay in power until November, should elections be impossible by June. It appeared on Monday that Mr. Regmi is close to getting the terms and conditions he prefers.
The press release issued by the Supreme Court states he is positive about giving outlet to “political and constitutional hurdles”. The statement further added that the process would move forward with “high respect for the judiciary and its decisions”.
Mr. Regmi was referring to the outstanding petition at the Supreme Court against the proposal to appoint him.
SC order to defendants
On Sunday’s hearing on the case, Justice Sushila Karki give an order to the defendants — President Ram Baran Yadav; Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai; and UCPN (Maoist) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ — to furnish written response to the Court on March 5. A special bench of judges will hear the case on March 7.
Justice Karki’s order was seen by the petitioners a victory against possible political appointment of Mr. Regmi at least until March 7. The Nepal Bar Association, which is strongly opposed to the possible appointment of Mr. Regmi, held an emergency meeting in response to the press release.
‘Firm response on Wednesday’
“Will give a firm response on Wednesday after holding consultations with all 84 of our chapters,” said Tikaram Bhattarai, Vice-President of the Bar.
The obstacles to Mr. Regmi’s appointment, however, are not limited to the Bar. First, the Supreme Court will have to reject the petition on March 7. Second, a constitutional amendment will be necessary: the Interim Constitution has no provision for changing the government in the absence of a Parliament.
Third, any constitutional amendment passed by the President using provisions in the constitution to “remove difficulties” is bound to be challenged at the Supreme Court. Fourth, many political parties, including the breakaway CPN (Maoist), have declared they will not consider Mr. Regmi’s appointment legitimate.
But the four parties are optimistic. “If all goes well, Mr. Regmi will be sworn in soon after the verdict on March 7,” said Bimalendra Nidhi, a negotiator from the Nepali Congress, “allowing to country to proceed quickly to elections by June.”