Unfazed by widespread criticism, Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai has taken yet another step to meddle in the country’s judicial system. Bhattarai on Sunday registered an application at the Supreme Court urging the country’s apex court to annul the latter’s interim order to proceed with investigation into the murder of Dailekh-based journalist Dekendra Thapa. Saying that the regular criminal justice system cannot deal with conflict-era cases, Bhattarai has argued that the interim constitution envisages formation of Truth and Reconciliation Commission to resolve cases related to insurgency and the letter and spirit of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) should be kept in mind while interpreting the interim constitution. “I urge the SC to annul the interim order as it overlooks international norms, practices, the distinct nature of cases related to insurgency and constitutional provisions regarding such cases,” Bhattarai has argued in his application. In a separate application, the prime minister has also urged the SC to scrap a writ petition filed by advocate Govinda Prasad Sharma seeking the court’s order to proceed with the investigation into the murder.
We do agree that hundreds of cases of rights violations are yet to be settled due to the lack of transitional justice mechanism, and all these cases need to be sorted out after the formation of such mechanism. But this issue has already been sidelined after the district court in Dailekh termed Thapa’s murder a criminal case, bringing it under the criminal justice system. Even legal experts have time and again said that the meddling in the investigation into Thapa’s murder is a ploy to ruin the country’s criminal justice system. It would only be wise for Bhattarai to keep mum in this particular case and cooperate in the investigation.
Instead of meddling in judicial affairs, Bhattarai and his government should focus on guaranteeing the security of journalists in Dailekh and also Kavre, where local journalists have been threatened by his and CPN-Maoist cadres and are still living in fear. Bhattarai should understand that the consolidation of democracy and republicanism would not be possible without freedom of expression and right to information, and guaranteeing the safety of journalists would only help restore his image, already at stake due to his working style.
One positive aspect of Bhattarai’s application, however, is that he seems to have realized that the interim constitution should be practiced as per the letter and spirit of the CPA. Till now, he seems to have forgotten the fact. The most important spirit of the CPA is that it envisages the politics of consensus until the promulgation of the new constitution. Since his unilateral decision to call for fresh elections of the Constituent Assembly before its dissolution, Bhattarai has been a stumbling block in forming a consensus government.
His own party chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal accepted that an understanding had actually been reached between major political forces to form a national consensus government under the leadership of Nepali Congress president Sushil Koirala. And it has now become clear that Bhattarai played spoilsport at the last minute and ruined the almost-certain understanding between the parties. It is easier said than done. Bhattarai’s latest interpretation of the interim constitution as being a part of the letter and spirit of the CPA should also be applied in the politics of consensus which is a basic requirement to overcome the present political crisis. And this would only be possible when he announces his resignation, and parties start fresh negotiations to form a consensus government to hold elections of the CA at the earliest