MURARI SHARMA/BHAGIRATH BASNET
Three very important appointments, two in Asia and one in Europe, were made on March 14, 2013. Two of them will have significant impact on their countries and the world, and the third only on Nepal. All three leaders appointed on the day have significant challenges before them.
On that day, 2,987 deputies in the National People’s Congress elected Xi Jinping as president of China, a once-in-a-decade decision. Xi’s immediate challenge is to strike a balance between ideologies and loyalties of Politburo members and consolidate his position. This is necessary to focus on other pressing challenges: Arresting growth in population; ensuring that people have food, water, and clean air; controlling corruption; reining in inflation; bridging the gap between rich and poor; and promoting national interest in the region and beyond without intimidating others. How China tackles its domestic problems and conducts its relations with other countries will have a decisive impact on the world and Nepal.
In the Vatican, 115 cardinals elected a new leader, Pope Francis, of Argentina, the first from outside Europe in 1,300 years. He too has daunting challenges: Addressing the cases of sexual abuse, including of children, by pedophile priests dating back decades, which has tarnished the image of Catholicism badly; evolving the Vatican’s views on issues of materialism, secularism, and general disillusionment among Catholics; and reforming the Vatican bureaucracy and finances. As leader of over a billion Catholics around the world, Francis will have significant impact on how Catholics work with other faiths across the globe and how Nepali Catholics avoid the impending Shivasena-like backlash to aggressive proselytization in Nepal.
In Nepal, four houses of oligarchs—UCPN (Maoist), Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and the Madheshi Morcha—selected Chief Justice Khil Raj Regmi as chairman of election government on the same day. While China and the Vatican followed due process to appoint their chief executives, Nepal’s political oligarchs thoroughly flouted the constitution and due process and Regmi accepted a position expressly prohibited by the constitution. As in the Middle Ages, Regmi will work as chief executive while remaining chief justice. Even for this woefully faulty decision, the oligarchs took 10 long months, thanks to their constant bickering and mutual rejection. It is a glaring failure of the political class.
Nepal has made a mockery of the interim constitution, separation of power, rule of law and due process. Regmi, supposedly the symbol of justice, failed to demonstrate decency by resigning from his court post before heading the government. The only fortunate thing about this whole saga was this: The outgoing Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai did people a favor by dropping at the last minute his plan to address the nation to extol himself for non-performance and for holding the country hostage for 10 months.
Civil society, the majority of political parties, and a large section of the intelligentsia have condemned the regressive decision of the oligarchs and criticized Regmi. The Nepal Bar Association labeled March 14 a Black Day in the history of Nepali judiciary, strongly condemned Regmi for compromising the court’s independence and urged him to resign from his court post. Immediately after Regmi’s swearing-in, 26 political parties blocked roads throughout the country demanding his resignation. Never in the history of Nepal has any government been asked to resign on the very day of its inauguration.
These issues apart, Regmi’s challenges are no less daunting than that of Xi and Francis. He will have to clean the mess left by politicians, manage the country and conduct the polls as a marionette while the oligarchs will maneuver the strings through the High Level Political Committee (HLPC). They will tell Regmi what to do and place all the blame for failure at his doors. If Regmi was going to flout the constitution anyway, he should have done so after securing some level of independence from the oligarchs rather than becoming their puppet.
The oligarchs see Regmi as their toy, though he can still refuse to be so. The outgoing Prime Minister Bhattarai made that clear at a press conference by saying that no one—read: Regmi—should undermine the political parties, for the real power lies in their hands and that there hasn’t been any transfer of power. Where there is no rule of law and respect for due process, the one who wields the baton rules. Amshuvarma ruled even though he was not king. Rana prime ministers exercised all the power on behalf of the ruling monarchs. The interim parliament suspended the monarchy when it had the power. So, Regmi can use his power almost as he pleases.
First, he should resign from his court post and negotiate with the 33 protesting parties, some of which have vowed to boycott the vote under him. Like fish out of water, the oligarchs are in a hurry to hold election even if it means riding roughshod over the protesting parties, but that will be a blunder. No one should forget the fiasco of the polls held by former King Gyanendra in the face of Maoist threat to disrupt them. Construction is difficult but destruction is easy.
Second, Regmi must take the absolutely necessary time for legal, technical and logistical preparations for the vote to avoid the Shakespearean dictum that people marry in haste and repent in leisure. There is not enough time for this for June polls. Regmi should zero in on October. Even for October-November, the government needs to start preparations on a war footing right away.
Third, Regmi must convince smaller parties and people in general that he will hold free and fair elections. Since he is not a candidate for the vote, nor does he represent a party, he should hold at bay the deep and pervasive criminal-political nexus developed, nurtured and used by the oligarchs in elections and governance. The oligarchs, acutely aware of the voters’ disdain for them due to corruption and failure to deliver, will certainly try to manipulate the polls to their advantage, which must be prevented.
We believe the oligarchs, too, should show some humility and convince the protesting parties to join the elections. Besides, they should find common ground on federalism through the HLPC so the constitution can be written and political uncertainty ended. One way to resolve this matter would be to form a constitution drafting committee of experts and put the draft up for an up and down vote in the new Constituent Assembly. If the oligarchs are not prepared to lift that burden, they should at least not queer Regmi’s pitch.
Though his government is unconstitutional, Regmi can make it more palatable by resigning from his court post, convincing the protesting parties to join the ballot, and making the election free and fair. The result will be a beautiful lotus which grows in mud. Thus, the outcome of all three appointments made on March 14, we hope, will turn out to be good for the respective countries and be appreciated by the world
Published on 2013-04-03 01:15:48