Chief justice sworn in to oversee Nepal elections


Fri, Mar 15, 2013 - Page 6

Nepal’s chief justice yesterday was sworn in as head of an interim government tasked with steering the country toward elections by June 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 only the second national polls since the end of the country’s civil war in 2006.

The election in theory should be held by June 21, but analysts are skeptical the vote will go ahead within the scheduled timeframe.

A legal challenge to Regmi’s appointment has already been launched, while a breakaway Maoist faction has called for a strike to protest the agreement.

The swearing-in ceremony for the 64-year-old Regmi was broadcast live yesterday morning on Nepal television.

“In the name of God, I take this oath as per the interim constitution that I will remain committed and honest to the nation and the sovereign people,” he said as he took over as head of a team of 11 ministers.

Regmi, whose official title is chairman of the interim election council of ministers, will hold several ministerial portfolios, including finance.

Nepalese politics has operated in a legislative vacuum since May last year when the parliament, which had doubled as a constitution drafting body, was dissolved without producing the charter.

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 its 10-year civil war.

Under the terms of the cross-party agreement, Regmi will return to his post as chief justice after the elections.

The deal has settled some of the most contentious issues, including the make-up of a truth and reconciliation commission and how to integrate former Maoist fighters in the army.

However, 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.

Sudheer Sharma, editor of Nepal’s Kantipur newspaper, said it was overly optimistic to expect the polls to take place in June.

“This has paved the way for holding the elections, so in that sense it’s a breakthrough,” he said.

“But there has been very vocal opposition against a government headed by the chief justice, and I don’t think this government will be able to conduct polls by June,” he said.

A challenge to the legality of Regmi’s appointment was scheduled to begin before a special bench in the Supreme Court yesterday.

Some of the strongest opposition to the agreement has come from a breakaway Maoist faction, some of whose supporters clashed with police in Kathmandu yesterday.

Dev Gurung, a leader of the faction, announced a five-hour strike for yesterday afternoon to protest the agreement.

“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 starting at noon today,” Gurung said.