Nextdoor Nepal: Widening the credibility deficit

An important monarchist returns with a powerful post,riding on Maoist support

Written by Yubaraj Ghimire | Published: May 17, 2013 3:30 am

An important monarchist returns with a powerful post,riding on Maoist support

Last week,the Nepal Bar Association and many prominent lawyers boycotted the reception hosted by the Supreme Court on the occasion of the 62nd anniversary of the judiciary’s independence from the executive. “We are back in that era,” NBA chairman Hari Krishna Karki said,justifying the boycott. The presence of Chief Justice Khil Raj Regmi,currently chairman of the council of ministers,provoked the boycott.

Not only the CJ but also President Ram Baran Yadav and top leaders of the four major political parties — who together authored the idea of the CJ as “Electoral Government Head”,in close cooperation with India,the EU and the US — are now the target of public ire. Their repeated promise to hold elections to the constituent assembly by mid-December has failed to enthuse people,although diplomats of the above countries pledge to offer any “help” in conducting elections.

Preliminary preparations indicate that the polls,if they take place at all,will witness a low turnout,given the lack of public enthusiasm and the decline in the parties’ credibility. The four major parties,mainly the Maoists and the Madhesi groups,are insisting that no one — even those convicted for murder and corruption — be barred. Neither Regmi nor Yadav will likely have the courage to veto the four parties’ wish. What Nepal’s big parties and the international community endorsing them want is an “election of any type”,with its legitimacy likely to

be questioned.

Last week again,the government appointed chiefs of three important constitutional bodies — the Commission of Inquiry into Abuse of Authority (CIAA),an anti-graft body; the Auditor General of Nepal; and the Public Service Commission — on an understanding among the major parties. Maoist chief Prachanda’s proposal to have Lokman Singh Karki,the chief secretary during former king Gyanendra’s direct rule in 2005,as CIAA chairman was unanimously recommended by the high-level machinery consisting of the top leaders of the four parties and immediately accepted by the CJ-led government. Interestingly,all the four parties opposed to the king’s regime that were in the forefront of demanding action against Karki for his alleged high-handedness in “suppressing” the movement for democracy in 2006,came together to rehabilitate him. His appointment is being seen as politically significant.

A section of the media,civil society and the Bar is on the streets,demanding the annulment of Karki’s appointment,which has also been challenged in the SC. But what is equally true is that Nepal has almost become a country where constitution and constitutionalism cease to mean anything. Even the SC has been deferring the dates for the hearing of cases challenging Regmi’s legitimacy. Is the apex court scared of taking up the cases against its head? The loss of the judiciary’s independent face and the

CJ-led government’s reluctance to stop criminals from contesting polls seem to show the future in store for Nepal’s democracy. The boycott of the SC reception on “Law Day” and of the CJ by the Bar does not augur well for democracy.

But the CIAA,arguably,is the most powerful constitutional body that has the power to drag even current and former prime ministers into investigations on corruption and abuse of authority charges.

Four PMs before Regmi distributed 700 million rupees,using their discretionary powers. Prachanda has been accused of pocketing a substantial amount of money out of the 18 billion rupees distributed by the government to Maoist combatants. Local development and infrastructural ministries have been found promoting corruption in the disbursement of development budgets,without the required “environmental feasibility survey” and even “verifiable project proposals”. The loss to the exchequer is estimated to be almost 70 billion rupees. A fair and efficient CIAA will have its hands full. But will it be able to work without political interference?

Why did the Maoists,who clamoured for a republic,back a person so intimately linked to the monarchy to head the CIAA,which may turn into the most powerful institution now? Nepal may soon see many top leaders investigated for corruption and jailed. But where will it lead politics?

yubaraj.ghimire@expressindia.com

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