March 15, 2013
Nepal's chief justice has been sworn in as head of an interim government tasked with steering the country towards elections after a cross-party deal broke a 10-month deadlock.
The leaders of four major parties reached agreement late on Wednesday to appoint Khilraj Regmi to lead an interim administration to oversee what would be the second national polls since the end of a civil war in 2006.
The election in theory should be held by June 21, but analysts are sceptical the vote will go ahead within the scheduled timeframe.
A legal challenge to Regmi's appointment was launched soon after his appointment on Thursday, and a breakaway Maoist faction has called for a strike to protest against the agreement.
Regmi, whose official title is chairman of the interim election council of ministers, will hold several ministerial portfolios.
Nepalese politics has operated in a legislative vacuum since May 2012 when the parliament, which had doubled as a constitution-drafting body, was dissolved.
Political infighting, which included a split in the ruling Maoist party last year, has confounded efforts to implement a peace plan meant to rebuild the country after a 10-year civil war.
The deal has settled some of the most contentious issues, including the creation of a truth and reconciliation commission and how to integrate former Maoist fighters in the army.
But while all parties say they want the elections to take place in June, there is already talk they could be pushed back.
"If things get out of control, we will defer the elections until November," Ram Chandra Paudel, a leader of the main opposition Nepali Congress, told reporters after the deal.
A challenge to the legality of Regmi's appointment was scheduled to begin before a special bench in the Supreme Court this week.
Some of the strongest opposition to the agreement has come from a breakaway Maoist faction, some of whose supporters clashed with police in Kathmandu.
Dev Gurung, a leader of the faction, announced a five-hour protest strike.
"The leaders of four parties struck a deal in the middle of the night. It's fascist, undemocratic, and anti-national so we will protest it," said Gurung.
Many Nepali lawyers are also against the deal on the grounds that appointing the Chief Justice is unconstitutional.
“Appointing the Chief Justice as the Prime Minister goes against constitutionalism, the Interim Constitution and the principle of separations of power,” said Sunil Pokhrel, General Secretary of the Bar.
Mr. Regmi’s position would be complicated by the fact that there are several Supreme Court decisions, such as the sentence on Maoist lawmaker Bal Krishna Dhungel on a murder case dating back to the Maoist ‘People’s War’, which the government has not implemented.
The Maoists are adamant that such cases should only be looked at by a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. But the Commission, which was supposed to be formed six months after the signing of the peace agreement that ended the Maoist ‘People’s War’ in 2006, has not materialised due to disagreements over amnesty provisions for serious human rights abuses committed during the war by the Nepal Army and the Maoist guerillas.