Twenty two months after assuming charge as head of Nepal’s judiciary, Chief Justice Khil Raj Regmi took oath as chairman of the country’s interim election council on Thursday.
The development assumes significance as Regmi would now discharge duties of the chief executive as part of a new formula and replaced Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai of the Maoist-Madhesi coalition.
His primary task would be to conduct the next parliamentary elections in June.
The 64-year old was to take charge on Wednesday night but delays in forging an agreement by the four major parties for Regmi’s elevation and other legal and constitutional hurdles prevented that.
President Ram Baran Yadav administered oath of office and secrecy to Regmi at a brief function at his official residence. Two former bureaucrats also took oath as ministers of the council.
Regmi’s elevation that needed amendments to the interim constitution is seen as the only way out of the ongoing political and constitutional crisis in Nepal since dissolution of the Constituent Assembly last year.
Balance of power
Though Regmi would not be able to continue as the Chief Justice in his new position (an officiating Chief Justice would be appointed soon), his elevation has shifted balance of power in the multi-party democracy.
Unable to resolve differences on which party would head the ‘unity’ government responsible for conducting polls, the four major parties decided to handover the task to the Chief Justice.
They signed an 11-point agreement late on Wednesday night that put all powers entrusted to the Prime Minister on Regmi’s shoulders.
Regmi would head an 11-member council of ministers (selected from eminent former bureaucrats with no political affiliations) and would continue to function till the next government assumes charge.
Once that happens after the next parliamentary polls, he would re-assume his earlier position as Chief Justice of Supreme Court.
“The parties had no other way of resolving the ongoing crisis after they failed to agree on structure of the next government. For Nepal’s sake I hope this experiment succeeds,” said Lok Raj Baral, former Nepali ambassador to India.
Despite handing over reins of government to Regmi, the four major ruling and opposition parties agreed on forming a high level mechanism comprising their representatives to help the new government.
It would be responsible to create a favourable atmosphere for elections, resolve all areas of dispute among parties, advise the interim council and decide on a fresh date if polls are not held in June.
“All other points of discontent among the parties including citizenship, voters list and rank determination of Maoist combatants joining the army have been sorted out,” said senior Nepali Congress leader Bimalendra Nidhi.
But Regmi’s elevation as a regressive step 22 fringe parties including a breakaway faction of the Maoist party have opposed it and threatened to launch street protests.
Thursday marked a new chapter in Nepal’s efforts at ending political uncertainty that started since dissolution of the Constituent Assembly in May last year without a constitution.
If Regmi is able to hold polls on schedule, the country will get a new Constituent Assembly and the long awaited new constitution that promises to usher in a a new Nepal.