The Poll Post

With the formation of the new interim government led by chief justice Khil Raj Regmi, Nepal's four political parties have steered the political course towards the elections. Will this bring any change?

March 23, 2013, 5:45 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: Vol: 06 No. -19 Mar. 22- 2013 (Chaitra 09, 2069)

The CA Poll seems inevitable now. Four political parties and other fringe parties have already announced that they will kick off the election campaign from next week.  Even the CPN-Maoist, which opposed the present agreement, is preparing for elections secretly.  However, the question remains whether it will bring any political solution.

Despite their willingness to participate in the elections, the opposition has already raised the issue of neutrality of the incumbent government.  Given the domination shown by four political parties, there is reason to question the neutrality.

"This is not an independent government but a government of political parties runs by retired bureaucrats," said former Prime Minister Surya Bahadur Thapa. “If political parties are really honest, they should let chairman of council of Minister Khil Raj Regmi to work independently and select the ministers on his choice."

After appointing eight ministers under the recommendation of four political parties, the Regmi-led government has taken a full shape with 11 members.

"All priority of the government is to hold free and fair elections in June. We are working towards this. Now we will dedicate more time to make arrangements for elections," said Regmi in his brief interaction with the media at the President’s Office. "The election process will begin with starting consultations with the Election Commission."

From filling the position at the Election Commission and enacting necessary laws through ordinances, the new government has to complete many tasks to make elections a reality. The logistics, including the printing of ballot papers, deployment of security and mobilization of officials is another important issue.

 Issuing more than 3.7 million citizenship certificates on the basis of inheritance and preparing the voter identity card is one of the most daunting tasks ahead. On the logistic side, a senior official at the Election Commission is still unaware where to print the ballot paper and security agencies have already demanded basic logistics to hold the elections. Various civil service related organizations have issued threats that they will boycott the elections in case the government does not agree to issue ordinances to amend the Civil Service Act.

There is the need to handle a lot of issues before heading for elections. At a time when a group of leftist fringe parties, under the alliance with CPN-Maoist, a breakaway party of UCPN-Maoist, has already announced that it will continue to launch protest against the government, the way ahead is unpredictable. 

However, elections in June are less likely.  Senior officials at the Election Commission have confided privately that the Commission cannot hold the elections in June because there are so many preconditions to be met before taking any step.

According to them, there are some obstacles before the EC. One of the obstacles is the lack of new Voter’s Registration Act and the appointment of office bearers of EC. The Commission requires at least 90 days in commencing the process. Given the current situation, it is likely to take a few more days to complete the appointments and promulgate ordinances to replace the present Voter’s Registration Act. This will ultimately make the elections impossible in June. 

"Even we don't know where to print the ballot paper as printing machine of Janak Educational Materials, used to print the ballot paper in the past, are not functioning," said a senior official at the Commission. "Distribution of voter identity card in three months is not easy. If political parties make such a drastic agreement overnight, nothing is impossible, however. If we want free and fair elections, the time is very short.”

Is Poll Solution?

Elections have not brought any solution to Nepalese politics and it is often guided by other forces. Except the period of 1990-2001, Nepal rarely settled its political agenda through the elections.  The functional constitution of Kingdom of Nepal 1990 was scrapped through a decree issued by a revived house in 2006. Even Nepal's political parties claimed the parliamentary declaration as a Magna Carta. 

Under the parliamentary decree, parties promulgated the Interim Constitution and held the elections for a 601-member Jumbo CA. Except for removing the old and constitutional practices, the elected CA did nothing significant in its four-year tenure.,

Given Nepal’s current ground reality, the coming elections, which were announced under an 11-point decree of four political parties, by amending major parts of the constitution without proper constitutional grounds, will also be likely to end in a similar circumstance.

Interestingly, the lawyers and civil society leaders who applauded parliamentary decree of 2006 as a Magna Carat are now opposing the 11-point agreement, the 2nd Magna Carta.

 Of course, elections are the right way to choose the representatives if the right processes and procedures are adopted. Whether the constitutions are amended and scrapped under the decrees of political agreement, nothing can bring peace and stability.  Under the eleven-point agreement signed among four parties and approved by the cabinet, president Dr.Ram Baran Yadav opened a new political course for elections of CA.  Nepal's situation has changed much in the last 150 years where power always dominates the constitutional process.

Given Nepal's complex geo-strategic situation with two rising world powers on two sides, it is less likely to see a stable political and constitutional process in Nepal. "Bring any political system and constitution; it dooms to fail in Nepal. This is not going to be an exception now," said a political analyst.

At a time when political parties failed to produce a workable constitution in the previous five years without agreement on core issues, it is almost certain that even the next elected constitutional body will face a similar fate as political parties are yet to agree on the basic elements of the constitution, including forms of government, nature of government, judiciary, citizenship and so on. 

Old Secretaries, New Experiment

In its over six decades of political experiment, this is the first government led by all retired secretaries  under the leadership of incumbent chief justice Khil Raj Regmi, who is himself a bureaucrat. However, the retired secretaries are appointed under the recommendations of four political parties on the basis of their loyalty towards them.

Out of eleven members of the interim cabinet, eight retired bureaucrats are appointed on the recommendation of four political parties UCPN-Maoist, Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and Samyukta Loktantrik Madheshi Morcha, who signed an 11-point agreement to dislodge Bhattarai government. 

However, this is not the first time retired bureaucrats were appointed ministers. Nepal has a long history of bureaucrats joining in the government. Dr. Bekeh Bahadur Thapa, Dr. Devendra Raj Pandey, Bharat Bahadur Pradhan, Dan Bahadur Shahi, Dharma Bahadur Thapa, Dr. Upendra Devkota, and Narendra Bikram Shaha also served as ministers in various cabinets in the past.

However, this is the first time the choice are retired secretaries. During Panchayat period, it was almost normal to see bureaucrats heading major portfolios like finance and foreign affairs. Only after the restoration of democracy in 1990, the trends were reversed somehow.

Political Mechanism

Four political parties have already formed a high-level political mechanism with an aim to suggest and direct the government on its affairs. However, it is unclear what role the political mechanism will play and whether it is mandatory for the government to accept the recommendations of the mechanism. According to sources, four political parties almost agreed on the names to be appointed at various constitutional bodies, including Election Commission. Former election commissioners Nilkanth Upreti, Dholak Bahadur Gurung and Abadhi Prasad Yadav will be appointed at the Commission. Each political party recommended two former secretaries as ministers. Along with this, the Judicial Council has already taken the initiative to make appointments to the vacant positions in the Supreme Court. The Council may recommend 14 names to be appointed as permanent and temporary judges at the court. Acting chief justice Damodar Prasad Sharma has already directed the council to prepare the name list.

Cleansing Operation

As per the direction of Chairman of the Council of Ministers Khil Raj Regmi, Nepal Police handed over files of five gang leaders to the Department of Property Purification. According to Police, these people were involved in various criminal activities, accumulating billions of rupees.  Affiliated to major political parties, five gang leaders will have to face fresh charges. Similarly, the National Vigilance Center also submitted a file to the CIAA against a state minister of previous government on corruption charges.  In his first briefing to secretaries, chairman of council of ministers directed secretaries to adopt zero tolerance on corruption. It is likely that some cleansing drive against corruption will continue.

Government’s Mandate

After the publication in the Gazette of the government of Nepal on 16 March, the eleven-point agreement is now a part of the Interim Constitution. After the provision, the caretaker government under the chairmanship of chief justice Khil Raj Regmi can now work as all other governments, exercising its authority, as designated in the cabinet. The government can sign any agreement on issues except the programs with long term implications.

Despite getting the international support, the first government led by Chief Justice Khilraj Regmi has not moved yet.  Constituted under the 11-point agreement signed between four major political parties, the chief justice-led government’s only priority is to hold the elections for the Constituent Assembly either in June or November. Given the present political situation, the road ahead for Regmi is not easy as one may think.

Cabinet Structure and affiliation

1.Khil Raj Regmi, chairman, Council of Minister (Palpa)

2. Madhav Ghimire, Minister for Home and Foreign Affairs (Palpa), CJ's nominee

3.Hari Neupane, Minister for Law and Justice Law, Justice and Federal Affairs and Labor and Employment, CJ's nominee.

4.Madhav Paudel, Education, Information and Communications and General Administration Minister. Long association with CPN-UML. He was with the UML-student wing from his student days. He is a former law secretary from Ramechhap.

5.Tek Bahadur Thapa, Gharti,  Agriculture Development and Forest and Soil Conservation Minister, former agriculture secretary and very close to CPN-UML from school days. He is from Tanahu.

6.Ram Kumar Shrestha, Federal Affairs and Local Development and Health and Population minister, former secretary to Ministry of Local Development and closely associated with UCPN-Maoist  from Gorkha.

7.Riddhi Baba Pradhan, Children and Social Development and Land Reforms and Management Minister, former secretary to Ministry of Tourism and Culture. She is from Lalitpur and an archeologist. Appointed under UCPN Maoist recommendation.

8.Umakanta Jha, Energy, Science, Technology and Environment and Irrigation Minister, former secretary to Industry. Nepali Congress follower, who later switched to Samyukta Loktantrik Madheshi Morcha from Dhanusha.

9.Biddhya Dhar Mallik, former finance secretary, close to Nepali Congress and now advisor to president. He was appointed under Madheshi Morcha’s recommendation.

10.Shanker Koirala, Finance and Industry, Commerce and Supplies Minister, former secretary to Ministry of Industry, Nepali Congress from Bhojpur.

11.Chaabi Raj Pant, Physical Infrastructure and Transport and Town Development Minister, former secretary to Ministry of Labor and close to Nepali Congress. From far-western Nepal.

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