Ever since the constitution making process was torpedoed with the dissolution of the CA by the Bahattarai-led government eight months ago, the nation has been in a state of seize. The country has been grappling with increasing level of impunity, corruption and lawlessness; violence against women has grown; our economic indicators are down, and there have been attempts to muzzle the press. However, the Bhattarai-led government unabashedly clung to power, saying that there would be a total political vacuum if it resigned prematurely without a package deal that guaranteed timely elections. Meanwhile, there has been a systematic dismembering of the constitutional organs—the Election Commission was completely defunct; the Supreme Court was left with five out of the 14 provisioned judges and the country’s chief anti-graft body, the CIAA, continues to be operated by civil servants in the absence of constitutionally-mandated commissioners. For Baburam Bhattarai and his cohort, it was virtually a free ride except for the occasional hurdle placed by the Supreme Court.
Although there were multi-pronged efforts to resolve this political deadlock created after the demise of the CA—ranging from the restoration of the dissolved CA to sort out constitutional issues, to the formation of national government to hold new CA polls, to the formation of an election government under an independent person—lack of trust between the parties in power and the opposition scuttled all these efforts. The opposition blamed the Maoists for ambivalence and their habitual reneging on old agreements, while the Maoists were loath to handing over power unconditionally. Both the sides were reluctant to look for common ground based on national interest. Initially, the ruling coalition insisted that the election government, as per democratic norms, be formed under the incumbent PM, but later relented that the PM post could be taken up by one of the parties in the ruling coalition. The opposition parties discarded both these options. UCPN (Maoist) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, a master at dangling carrots, then offered the formation of consensus government under the leadership of an opposition candidate and asked the opposition to come up with a name for new PM.
Gullible as ever, the opposition promptly proposed the name of NC President Sushil Koirala. As expected, the Maoists began to dither and finally backed out of the proposal on the ground that Bhattarai refused to resign. Interestingly, the fearsome Prachanda went to the extent of openly confessing during UCPM (Maoist) general convention that Koirala could not become PM because of external intervention—such is the pathetic state of Nepali polity. UCPN (Maoist) leadership then floated the idea of an independent person to head the election government. This option was also strongly opposed by the opposition as such an act would completely erode the legitimacy of political parties and set a dangerous precedent of them whenever convenient, which could eventually lead to the birth of yet another dictatorship. In this context, it must also be observed that the opposition failed to come up with any viable alternatives and single-mindedly harped on the one-point agenda of ousting the Bhattarai government as a precondition for further dialogue. The opposition held a number of impressive rallies around the country to demand the ouster of Bhattarai government to avert totalitarianism. In response, the Maoist maestro was able to pull out another trick from his hat. During the Hetauda general convention, he announced that the election government would be headed by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
Photo: File photo
This caused ripples in political circles and shockwaves in the legal fraternity. Democratic governments are conceived on the principle of separation of powers between the three organs: parliament to form laws, the executive wing to govern the state and the judiciary to monitor and safeguard the rule of law including the interpretation of the constitution. It is rightly believed that a sitting chief justice acting in the capacity of executive head could infringe on this separation of powers doctrine, thereby gravely eroding democratic norms and values. To pinpoint the source of this ‘magical formula’ would be hazardous. But the source is unlikely to be homegrown. Otherwise comrade Prachanda would not have had the audacity to make such a momentous declaration in a public forum, especially given his inability to convince even his party colleague Bhattarai to step down to facilitate the formation of a national government to serve vital national interest.
The Nepali polity and the nation as such are not deeply worried about the prospect of a CJ heading the election government, at a time there appeared to be no viable alternatives. It had become an imperative to invoke the doctrine of necessity. Rather, the greater worry is that the management of our country has gone out of our hands. Our political leadership must take responsibility for this sorry state of affairs and make amends by engaging in serious soul searching. They should sincerely apologize for their failure to put national interest above partisan and personal interests and pledge to always work in the national interest in the future.
Now that the political parties have agreed on an election government under the CJ, it is important to shift the focus to holding free and fair elections. The last CA election, although certified by the international community as being close to free and fair, had many shortcomings, primarily because the security arrangements were weak and guns and goons prevailed. The Nepal Army, a 90,000-strong force, was kept inside the barracks and the task of providing security rested solely with Nepal Police and Armed Police Force. Although these organs gave their best, it was not sufficient to tackle the security hazards created, among others, by the freely roving armed YCL cadres and PLA combatants who had deserted their cantonments to support their mother party. Thus it is important to mobilize the army in upcoming election to provide adequate security. The international community must also rise to the occasion and provide all possible assistance to Nepal (expertise, logistics supply and money) for free and fair elections which could enable us to chart our own destiny with our own wisdom and home grown experience.
The author is NC Mahasamiti member