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Nepal steers in chief justice-led govt in historic move
Publication Date : 14-03-2013
Following 13-hour-long marathon parleys, Nepal on Wednesday entered an unusual political course after major political parties signed a deal to form an election government headed by Chief Justice Khil Raj Regmi .
The deal signed at 9:57 pm paved the way for resolving the long standing hurdle on the formation of a new government and holding new Constituent Assembly (CA) elections.
Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai forwarded the recommendation to clear legal hurdles in forming the CJ-led government to President Ram Baran Yadav at midnight on Wednesday in the capacity of the caretaker prime minister.
"The new understanding has offered a solution to the prolonged political deadlock. It has opened doors for holding the next elections and provided an opportunity for reviving the constitution making process," said Nepali Congress (NC) Vice President Ram Chandra Poudel, emerging from the talks. Unified Communist Part of Nepal (Maoist) (UCPN-Maoist) vice-chairman and Deputy PM Narayan Kaji Shrestha said the agreement was an important step to end the political deadlock and to hold elections.
The major parties had wasted 10 months after the demise of the CA in May, while they started discussions on a CJ-led government last month. The deal was delayed after top party leaders failed to strike agreement on key components of a package deal, which among others, included citizenship distribution, voters roll update and issues related to the peace process.
On Wednesday night, top leaders of the UCPN (Maoist), Nepali Congress, Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) (CPN-UML) and the Samyukta Loktantrik Madhesi Morcha (SLMM) signed the 11-point agreement and forwarded a 24-point proposal on clearing constitutional hurdles for formation of a new election government to the President.
The non-partisan government has been entrusted with the responsibility of conducting new CA elections by June 21, 2013.
The agreement states that the CJ-led government would get a second term till December 15, 2013 if it fails to hold the elections due to 'any technical or untoward situation'. It says that the CJ would be relieved of the top executive post once a new prime minister is picked, though it is silent on whether the second term would also be the CJ's last one.
Unprecedented in Nepal's democratic history, the new turn of events comes against the backdrop of the NC and the UML's reluctance to accept elections under the Baburam Bhattarai-led government.
The ruling coalition, on the other hand, refused to hand over the government leadership to the opposition parties.
The interim Cabinet will have 11 members consisting of retired senior bureaucrats. It will be responsible for holding the elections and overseeing the day-to-day administration. However, it will have no mandate to take a decision that will have a long-term impact. The new deal envisages a high-level political committee for building consensus among the parties and assisting the interim government in holding the polls. The committee would comprise party leaders and would be responsible for making recommendations on the new date of the elections if the polls cannot be held within the schedule.
NC leader Bimalendra Nidhi said the recommendation of the high-level committee on political issues would be binding on the interim government. "If there is any deadlock in holding the elections, the committee would offer a solution," said UML leader Bhim Rawal.
The agreement was sealed after a series of cross-party talks in recent weeks resolving differences among the major parties on the distribution of citizenship certificates, update of the voters roll, ordinance on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and determination of ranks for former Maoist combatants in the national army. In Wednesday's agreement, the prime minister-led Special Committee decided to provide one post of a colonel and two posts of lieutenant colonels to the former Maoist fighters.
The accord commits to immediately distribute citizenship by descent to children of Nepali citizens who have already obtained citizenship by birth. It commits to providing voting rights to all Nepali citizens who attain the age of 18 within the deadline that would be set by the Election Commission (EC). Parties have asked the EC and the Home Ministry to update the voters roll, both on the basis of citizenship and other legal documents specified in the Voters Roll Act 2007.
They have also committed to take into account both the voters roll prepared for the 2008 elections and digital voters' list updated last year while allowing the new registrations.
The deal states that those whose names are missing in the 2008 roll and in the updated list with photographs prepared last year will be entitled to new registration on the basis of other legal documents such as land ownership certificates or any other identity card issued by the government and as stipulated in Article 11 of the Act. The major parties also agreed on a revised draft of the TRC ordinance. The bill now does not have a provision of blanket amnesty for serious cases of human rights violations. An ordinance, which is currently under consideration at the President's office, has been opposed by rights groups and the international community for failing to meet standard norms.
Parties have committed to uphold the principle of separation of powers between the executive and the judiciary while implementing the new deal. CJ Regmi would give up his judicial responsibility by making the senior most judge of the Supreme Court the acting CJ as long as he heads the interim government.
The four major forces also agreed to make appointments in vacant posts in the judiciary, constitutional bodies and diplomatic missions by removing constitutional difficulties. All those bodies are headed for a vacuum in the absence of fresh appointments.
The deal states that the next CA would have 491 members and would undertake both legislative and constitution-making functions.
The parties also committed to take ownership of issues agreed by parties in the erstwhile CA. The Maoist party has committed to extend support for the return of the land and property confiscated during the decade-long Maoist conflict to their rightful owners. In the 11-point deal, leaders also agreed to hold elections for local bodies within April, 2014.