UCPN (Maoist) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s new proposal of appointing the sitting Chief Justice Khil Raj Regmi as the leader of the new electoral government seems to have raised more questions than it has helped answer. Why did the Maoists propose a sitting CJ, instead of a retired one, when the interim constitution clearly forbids the chief justice from engaging in “any other assignment than that of a judge?” The opposition parties see this as a blatant attempt to meddle in the judiciary (much in the vein of the Maoist attempt to forcefully remove the army chief in 2009), which has already been weakened by a string of retirements of senior Supreme Court and Appellate Court justices and the absence of a legal mechanism to replace them. By trying to interfere in the only functional government organ, which has time and again stopped the Bhattarai government from overstepping constitutional bounds and from carrying out illegal actions like pardoning convicted killers, the Maoists seem to be looking to destroy all checks on executive power.
Apparently, the appointment of CJ was the ‘magic formula’ to end the protracted political stalemate that Dahal spoke of during his inaugural address at the Hetauda general convention. But there is nothing ‘magical’ about the proposal, as it comes without taking the opposition parties into confidence. By unilaterally announcing the proposal at a party forum, the Maoists seem to be trying to corner the opposition parties into willy-nilly accepting this proposal, which the party has deemed the ‘last option’ to break the deadlock. The best way for the Bhattarai government to show its sincerity would be by vacating office to clear the way for a consensus government tasked with holding new CA polls. But the unilateral proposal of the CJ as new prime minister will, instead of helping clear the way, fan suspicions about the intent of the Maoists among opposition parties.
The Maoists have been coming up with so many competing proposals, all apparently aimed at ending the impasse, it is hard to understand what the party really wants. One cannot help but question: Is the intent to indefinitely prolong the Maoist tenure at the top of the government by keeping the opposition parties perpetually confused and by dismantling all checks? This also raises a serious question over the Maoists’ (and the ruling coalition’s) commitment to new CA polls. The ruling alliance has been blaming opposition parties for delaying elections, but its recent actions suggest it too is far from convinced on polls. We are not against third-party candidacy, if there can be broad consensus on the name of the neutral candidate to lead the new government.
But by the looks of things, the ruling coalition does not want new election, as it keeps proposing one unviable option after another without any attempt to take the opposition parties into confidence. At this point, new CA polls must be the sole goal of all political parties that want to consolidate the progressive changes witnessed in the country since 2006. But for the polls to materialize, the Maoists must be able to take other parties into confidence. Any attempt to push through unilateral decisions is, ultimately, sure to backfire