Nepalese parties are inching towards resolving a 10-month long political deadlock that will enable the holding of fresh elections for a new Constituent Assembly (CA). Despite Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai being the last legitimately elected leader from the floor of the house, the opposition had refused to accept polls under him. For its part, the ruling Maoist-Madhesi alliance saw no reason to hand over power to political rivals. A way out emerged last month when the Maoists proposed that an election government be formed under Chief Justice Khila Raj Regmi. The idea had prior sanction from President Ram Baran Yadav. Despite dissent from the middle-ranking leaders, the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified-Marxist-Leninist) have agreed to this proposal. However, the agreement has drawn criticism on the ground that it violates the principle of separation of powers. The Nepalese Supreme Court will also hear a case on Thursday regarding the constitutionality of the move. A chief justice leading the executive is not ideal in any democracy but Nepal’s extraordinary crisis calls for extraordinary measures. The interim constitution did not envisage the CA’s failure and has no provision for a second CA election. Given the intensity of political polarisation and mistrust, here at last is a reasonable via media.
As long as Mr. Regmi leads the transitional government, he will have nothing to do with the court and the next in line in the Supreme Court would be acting chief justice. But parties also need to agree on other key issues. The current voter rolls have almost six million fewer voters than in the 2008 polls, and four million less than the census figure of eligible voters. This disenfranchisement, deliberate or otherwise, must be addressed. Second, opposition parties have stepped back from a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ to award a colonel-level rank to the seniormost Maoist combatants integrated into the Nepal Army, leaving the peace process incomplete. Third, key constitutional vacancies, including of election commissioners, have to be filled. Fourth, the Maoists want to formalise a Truth and Reconciliation (TRC) Commission while the opposition wants to delink this from an election deal. The TRC should be a part of the deal only if the commission gives voice to victims and does not seek to brush away crimes against humanity committed during the civil war. Nepal’s parties must seize the moment, show their democratic credentials, sign a comprehensive deal, entrust the government to the chief justice, and aim for elections in June. If this timeline is not met for technical reasons, elections must be held after the monsoon and festivals in November. Nepal’s citizens are waiting to be heard.