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Intimations of failure

With Regmi refusing to quit as chief justice,the November election is likely to be violent and discredited

Written by Yubaraj Ghimire | Published: October 6, 2013 12:25:45 am

With Regmi refusing to quit as chief justice,the November election is likely to be violent and discredited

Khil Raj Regmi,the head of Nepal’s electoral government,was never seen to be as aggressive and outspoken as he was on his return from the UN General Assembly. “The­re is no question about my resigning as the chief justice.” He didn’t stop there: “The protest over my continuing as the chief justice of the Supreme Court will remain as short as the life of a water bubble.” He had reasons to be confident.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh apparently told Regmi that India was willing to provide any help Nepal wanted in conducting elections to the Constituent Assembly on November 19. “It will be good if all sides come to participate in the polls,but their not coming should not be the reason for postponing it,” Singh suggested. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon offered a similar sentiment,but chose to refer to complaints he had received from the Bar Association of Nepal about the judiciary’s impartiality being compromised. Regmi replied: “No,I have not been interfering with the day-to-day functioning of the court after I became the executive head.”

But developments at home dem­onstrate that the apex court now acts in the shadow of the cabinet,a charge that lawyers are openly hurling at presiding judges. “Can you do anything you want from that chair?” a lawyer asked acting Chief Justice Damodar Prasad Sharma recently,after the bench dismissed 17 petitions in a single order,some of which challenged decisions of the cabinet headed by Regmi. No lawyer was given a chance to plead. “I have already done it. Please come to my chamber,we will settle the issue there,” was Sharma’s response.

Earlier,a judge even issued an interim order that those convicted in murder cases should not be barred from contesting the polls. The interim order was vacated by a three-member bench subsequently,after much protest from the media and human rights ­bodies. But all this has sent out the ­message that the chances of the apex court acting freely,fairly and fearlessly are remote,as its independence has been compromised following the deal between Regmi and the four major parties. The court has been hearing,at a very slow place,other petitions challenging his appointment as the executive head.

But Regmi’s remarks dismissing the precondition of the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M) and other small groups,that they would participate in polls only if he resigned as chief ­­­justice,have caused a fresh political ­polarisation. The CPN-M has more sympathisers. Privately,even President Ram Baran Yadav and a section of the Nepali Congress,as well as the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M) — the CPN-M’s parent party — seem to have come round to the view that Regmi should quit as chief justice.

But Regmi’s strength and assertion are rooted in the support of the international community,manifested in the pledge made by Manmohan Singh and Ban Ki-moon. In Kathmandu,the UK ambassador suggested that the government not spare anyone trying to obstruct the polls. The US ambassador has been touring the country to mobilise support for the polls,and the German ambassador went to the extent of asking voters to not support parties that resort to bandhs. The CPN-M,despite its history as part of the decade-long insurgency,has not yet said it would resort to violence to obstruct the election,although it has asserted its boycott will be effective.

The government and the four ­major parties have not been able to pledge a safe and secure voting atmosphere. The government has decided that the army,a force of 90,000-plus,will be deployed. But it is seen more as a panic response.

More than that,the boycott by the CPN-M is definitely going to have an adverse impact on the still-incomplete peace process. The declining popularity of the big parties also throws up the possibility of the new legislature becoming more fragmented,thereby making constitution-writing more difficult. It seems the election is going to be violent,non-participatory and discredited.

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