Nepal's top leaders to lend CJ 'full support'

Phanindra Dahal in Kathmandu/The Kathmandu Post
Asia News Network20 February 2013

Kathmandu (The Kathmandu Post/ANN) - Top leaders of Nepal's four major political forces are meeting Chief Justice Khil Raj Regmi today to assure him of their "full-fledged cooperation" in holding fresh Constituent Assembly (CA) elections by early June. Parties pledged to make such a commitment after CJ Regmi, in an informal meeting with Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai on Tuesday morning, expressed serious doubts on the major parties' commitment to holding the polls within the stipulated time frame.

Regmi feared that disputes within the major parties on the formation of an interim election government under his leadership and the lack of a clear roadmap could prove obstacles to conducting elections within the next three months. Regmi's concerns come a day after the four major parties asked Bhattarai to reach out to the CJ and help form a non-partisan government.

In Tuesday's four-party talks, Bhattarai said the CJ expressed "some concerns" about provisions in the 12- point agreement the parties are considering formalising shortly. "We will meet CJ Regmi and convey to him that we are ready to address his concerns," chairman of the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) Jhala Nath Khanal told reporters. "Elections are the only way out of the current impasse and we are ready to support the next government under his leadership in every way we can."

According to one party leader, Regmi expressed displeasure over the stipulation in the proposed deal that he will be removed from the top executive post if his government fails to hold the elections within the given time frame. A draft of the deal, prepared by a four-party taskforce, includes the provision that says the CJ-led government will be removed from office within 15 days if it fails to conduct elections.

A Nepali Congress negotiator said top leaders of the four parties will assure the CJ of "full cooperation" to help him hold the polls and that he will be given one extension if elections can't be held by June. The negotiator, however, did not elaborate. In private conversations, some party leaders said the election date could be pushed to November to sort out various election-related hurdles.

The CJ is learnt to have asked for the removal of the provision for a fixed term and instead stressed that it is the responsibility of the parties to create an environment conducive to holding the elections. In his meeting with the PM, Regmi also expressed concern over differences within the major parties and individual party leaders, concerning his appointment as leader of an election government. "Even senior leaders, including the former chairman of the Constituent Assembly (CA) Subas Nembang and former Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal, have opposed the formation of a government under my leadership," a source quoted Regmi as having said. "This needs to stop and parties should concentrate on elections if I am to be asked to take up the executive position."

Prime Minister Bhattarai's political advisor Devendra Poudel said the CJ urged the PM to create an atmosphere where all major parties will support the process. In a bid to address Regmi's concerns, Nepali Congress President Sushil Koirala, on Tuesday, assured that major parties are fully committed to holding the elections within early June. "All the four major forces are worried about the current impasse and we want to go to the polls as soon as possible," Koirala told reporters after Tuesday's fourparty talks. "We firmly believe that the election will strengthen democracy and sovereignty."

Party leaders are scheduled to officially request the CJ to take up the responsibility in a meeting today. Leaders will reiterate that it is their collective responsibility to create a proper atmosphere for the polls and that Regmi should not resign if plans to conduct elections are affected by "any unwanted events," said Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs Bijay Kumar Gachhadar.

Though leaders had claimed that they would strike an agreement on Wednesday, they have yet to iron out differences on the formation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the determination of ranks in the Nepal Army for former Maoist combatants, the distribution of citizenship cards and the updating of voter rolls. Maoist negotiator Khimlal Devkota said leaders will make an attempt to resolve these issues as soon as possible.