Balance of power shifts in Nepal

The four major political parties in Nepal agreed on Monday to handover reins of government to Khil Raj Regmi—the incumbent Supreme Court chief justice. Though a formal agreement is awaited, the move demonstrates a shift in balance of power towards the judiciary.

Lack of consensus among the parties on ways to end the nine-month old constitutional and political crisis that began with dissolution of the Constituent Assembly in May last year was the prime reason behind this temporary but significant tilting of scales.

Unable to agree on which party would head the unity government entrusted with responsibility of conducting the next parliamentary elections, parties agreed on handing over their power to Regmi as suggested first by ruling Maoists during their convention earlier this month.

To ensure Regmi’s elevation as the country’s chief executive is brief the parties have agreed on certain measures.

First, Regmi would stop discharging duties as the chief justice once he becomes the chief executive.

The senior most Supreme Court justice is likely to be handed that position till Regmi rejoins after completing his task, i.e. conduct elections within June 5.

Instead of a government Regmi would lead an 11-member interim council of ministers. And though he would conduct all functions entrusted to the Prime Minister, he would be called chairman. The ministers to be selected by Regmi would not be affiliated to any political party.

If the interim council fails to hold elections within the stipulated date, a high level political committee would recommend to the President another person as the new chief within 15 days after expiry of the June 5 deadline.

But despite these provisions there is fear that the shift may not be the magic formula to end the ongoing crisis. The move to appoint Regmi has already seen opposition from parties not included in deliberations, legal experts and civil society leaders.

Nepal’s interim constitution doesn’t allow a sitting or retired judge to hold office of the chief executive and many say that such a move would be against basic tenets of democracy, rule of law and separation of powers between the executive and judiciary.

Some allege the move could be another instance of New Delhi’s interference while others feel it could be the outcome of some secret understanding between the Maoist leadership and Regmi. Still others see it as a Maoist attempt to weaken constitutional bodies.

It remains to be seen what will be the result of the new experiment. But till there’s positive outcome (elections on time and formation of a new government elected by voters) political players will remain the supporting cast in Nepal’s seemingly unending soap opera.

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