The four major political forces’ offer to the Chief Justice (CJ) to head the election government and Khil Raj Regmi’s subsequent acceptance of the proposal has created much hullabaloo in the political sphere. The nine-month-long wrangling between UCPN (Maoist), Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and United Democratic Madheshi Front (UDMF) over the leadership of new government came to an end (or so it seemed), with political leaders finally coming on the same page to hold elections for new Constituent Assembly-cum-Legislature Parliament under the sitting CJ.
However, top NC and UML leaders seem to have failed to convince lower rung leaders who have been protesting against their leaderships for giving in to UCPN (Maoist)’s ‘duplicitous’ proposal. The disgruntled leaders in both the parties claim that a sitting CJ leading the government is against the principle of separation of powers, while some have demanded the resignation of CJ Regmi before he assumes the new responsibility. This also echoes the demands put forth by the civil society, including Nepal Bar Association (NBA). NBA, the umbrella organization of lawyers, has said that the CJ does not have the moral basis to remain in the Supreme Court bench after he decided to lead the election government.
Though there are some problematic questions surrounding the CJ-led election government, we believe it remains a viable alternative to bail the country out of the current turmoil. We have time and again demanded Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai’s resignation, arguing that the only way to overcome the political crisis after the unceremonious dissolution of CA on May 27 was formation of consensus government and holding of fresh polls. Bhattarai’s continuation would only have prolonged existing uncertainties.
Though we welcome the prospect of a CJ-led election government, we would like to reiterate that those who have opposed the process should also be brought on board to make the elections free, fair and broadly acceptable. As the CJ has requested the parties to wait for the SC’s deliberations on March 7 on the writ petition filed against him, the parties have enough time for homework to settle all legal and constitutional barriers and work towards winning the confidence of all sides, most notably the Mohan Baidya-led CPN-Maoist and Upendra Yadav-led Madheshi People’s Rights Forum.
Again, while we agree with NBA and a section of the civil society that the sitting CJ taking over the mantle of the chief executive is against the principle of separation of powers, we would still like to stress the importance of finding a middle path to create an environment for fresh polls. For that, CJ Regmi, after assuming the leadership of election government, should give up his responsibilities as head of the judiciary until his role as the executive head comes to an end.
Given the track record of CJ Regmi, there is reason to believe that his government will be able to conduct free and fair polls and ensure that the country gets an outlet from the current political and constitutional crisis. Instead of engaging in unfruitful debate, the parties should cooperate in the formation of an election government under the Chief Justice and providing the sovereign people with another opportunity to exercise their right to choose their representatives to draft a new constitution