Still in transition
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Baburam Bhattarai is about to complete nine months as caretaker prime minister, without being able to hold elections for the constituent assembly by the promised date. Bhattarai seems to have finally relented to pressure and put a new condition duly endorsed by his Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists (UCPN-M) — that the incumbent chief justice should head the electoral government.
But only two major constituents of the ruling coalition — the Maoists and the Madhesi Front — and less than half-a-dozen top leaders of the Nepali Congress (NC) and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) endorsed the move. CJ Khil Raj Regmi finally backed out as the entire legal fraternity, including the Bar Association, opposed it, saying it would go against the principle of separation of powers and infringe upon judicial independence.
As the transition prolonged itself and political parties failed to elect a government, the army chief issued a loaded message last Wednesday, implying the army should be involved in solving some national problems. He also said that the Nepal army cannot be mobilised in a political vacuum. As the president and the caretaker PM come under severe attack from several parties, with high chances of organised public fury being directed at them, the army chief's message will be debated more intensely.
Bhattarai knows that the CJ's refusal will lead to his continuation. If the CJ accepts, it will be an ideological victory for the Maoists who have always wanted a captive judiciary and legislative supremacy. Apart from dangling the carrot of executive power before the head of the judiciary, Bhattarai's cabinet has also doled out 3 billion rupees, 50 per cent more than demanded, to the army to buy aircraft, and 30 million rupees to the Federation of Nepali Journalists to build their offices. Clearly, Bhattarai resorted to appeasing the judiciary, army and the media body. The Maoists had never been in favour of an independent judiciary and media or an army not associated with the party.
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