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Nepal: Inching Towards an Agreement for CA Elections: Update No. 277

Note No. 676                                         Dated 25-Feb-2013

By Dr. S. Chandrasekharan.

It looked as if the major political parties having realised the urgency of holding the CA elections before mid June, had come to an agreement to have a "non partisan" government immediately under the Chief Justice Khil Raj Regmi.

But they did not reckon that the Chief Justice himself is reluctant to get into the act and given the complications involved in seeing the election through, his ‘hesitancy’ is perhaps justified. It is also to be noted that the Chief Justice was never consulted before the four main parties decided to get him involved in running the administration after Bhattarai’s exit.

On the 16th of the month the leaders of the four main parties- the UCPN (M), the Nepali Congress, the UML and the ruling Madhesi outfit SLMM ( Samyukta Lok Tantric Madhesi Morcha) met at Shital Nivas- the residence of the President and , struck an agreement for a non partisan government led by the Chief Justice and to hold the Constitution Assembly (CA) elections before end May.

The leaders also formed an eight-member task force to propose a "package deal" for this purpose within two days as time was running out for conducting the elections before end May or the first week of June, before the monsoon that arrives sometime in the first or the second week of June.

The task force consisted of Mahara and Khimlal Devkota of UCPN (M), Bimalendhu Nidhi and Minendra Rijal of Nepali Congress, Bhim Rawal and Agni Kharel of UML and Jitendra Dev and Hrieyesh Tripathi of the SLMM.

This task force produced quickly a twelve point report that included-

* The Chief Justice would lead a 9-11 member executive body to conduct the elections.

* The CJ himself would choose the persons to run the administration( interim council members or ministers.

* A High Level political mechanism will be created for updating the voters list, distribution of citizenship certificates, making appointment to constitutional bodies and decide on the tenure of the new CA and the electoral system.

* The task force had suggested that the current electoral constituencies will be retained- 240 for elections on the "first past the post" system, and in the proportional representation, the number is to be reduced to 251 to make it in all 491 members.

It was specifically mentioned that the CJ mechanism will be only for looking after the day to day administration and take decisions on issues related to the elections.

The top leaders of the four parties met the Chief Justice on the 21st only to realise that the CJ was not interested to lead an "election government." It is learnt that the CJ was aghast at the suggestion that he will be removed from the post if he fails to hold the polls within the stipulated period.

The CJ also mentioned that even the judicial/legal fraternity is divided over his taking over the chairmanship of the Council. ( A PIL petition is also pending in the court on the same issue)

Though the leaders of the four parties put up a brave front when they said that the CJ has not said "No," those present in the meeting got the distinct impression that he was not willing to lead the government for conducting the elections.

Time is running out now. There are a host of issues that are to be decided before the elections. These include the question of voter identity cards for the citizens ( this applies to Terail where thousands are waiting for citizenship), delineation of new constituencies as well as the size of the new CA and the mode of elections (first past the post and the proportional system)

There is also the issue of the formation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, as well as some of the lingering issues on the peace process like the ranks to the ex PLA combatants.

A former Election Commissioner (Nilkantha Upreti) has opined that the CA elections could be held in the first week of June if all the constitutional hurdles are cleared by 25th Feb. ( it has not happened!), and if all tasks are done on a "war footing." For this, an all party consensus is a must and the country cannot afford a country wide hartal even for one day!

Another former Election Commissioner (Bhoj Raj Pokhrel) has also opined that elections could still be held by June 5 provided the major parties are willing to make compromises. But this is sadly lacking even now.

The top leaders of the political parties are meeting the CJ to persuade him to accept the post of chairmanship of the Council and if the CJ refuses, it will be back to square one!

It looks doubtful whether the fresh CA elections will be held by June. Given the political complications and lack of a consensus among political parties on almost all issues, one can understand the reluctance of the CJ to accept the responsibility of holding the elections.

The next few days in Nepal should be very interesting!