Despite the daily meetings among the leaders of Nepal’s four major political forces, a package deal on the contentious issues failed to materialise on Saturday, jeopardising the parties’ goal of holding elections by June.
The parties, which want to appoint the Chief Justice as the head of new cabinet to hold elections for another Constituent Assembly, are divided over the issues of updating the voter rolls and providing citizenship certificates to disenfranchised Nepalis, in addition to the creation of transitional justice mechanisms to look into human rights abuses committed during the Maoist ‘People’s War’.
“We will have a deal tomorrow,” Narayan Kaji Shrestha, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, repeated to the journalists on Saturday what has been a consistent refrain all of last week.
Although the top leaders of the four forces — UCPN (Maoist); Nepali Congress; Communist Party of Nepal-United Marxist Leninists (CPN-UML); and United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF) — have repeated publicly that elections by June is the only way out of the impasse, they appear to have realised it may be a difficult-to-meet target. On Saturday, the parties tried to lay the blame on each other for the delay.
Two of the difficult issues relate to the peace agreement that ended the Maoist ‘People’s War’ in 2006. As a part of the agreement [in 2011] among the parties that resulted in Dr. Baburam Bhattarai becoming the Prime Minister, the Maoists disbanded their ‘People’s Liberation Army’.
But out of the less than 1,500 soldiers who chose to join the Nepal Army, the Maoists want at least one to be made a Colonel and two to be made Lieutenant-Colonels, according to one of the negotiators. The Nepali Congress, however, would prefer not to confer any rank above that of Lieutenant-Colonel.
Also, the parties have been unable to agree on an ordinance on transitional justice mechanisms to look into war-time crimes. The UCPN (Maoist) has insisted that the ordinance must be enacted before forming a new government.
“The bill in the Parliament, which was abruptly withdrawn last year, had a ‘negative list’ for crimes like rape, murder, disappearance and torture, on which amnesty wasn’t possible, but the ordinance has no such list,” said Radheshyam Adhikari, a lawmaker from Nepali Congress in the lapsed Constituent Assembly.
The ordinance has also been criticised by human rights activists for making general amnesty possible even in the most serious crimes.
“If the Maoists and the Nepali Congress think the issue is over with an ordinance that doesn’t meet international standards, they’re mistaken”, warned Mandira Sharma, a human rights worker.
The parties have been spooked by the arrest of a Nepal Army Colonel Kumar Lama in the U.K. on charges of torture committed during the ‘People’s War’. Mr. Lama was arrested on January 3 and has since been charged with torture under British laws that permit universal jurisdiction over war crimes.
“The ordinance on transitional justice will have a strong national jurisdiction, so that war-time crimes will not fall under universal jurisdiction anywhere,” said Minendra Rijal, a negotiator from the Nepali Congress.
Besides the differences among the parties, there is also the Supreme Court which could stall the parties’ plans to form an election government headed by the Chief Justice.
On March 7, a scheduled hearing — on whether appointment of Chief Justice as interim PM violates the principle of separation of powers and Nepal’s Interim Constitution — was postponed to March 14. The parties, however, have said they will not wait for the Court’s decision, should there be an agreement in the near future.