Sunday, November 13, 2011

Amnesty Of Disgrace

For a ceremonial head of state, President Ram Baran Yadav sure has an aversion to the rubber stamp. As the optimism generated by the Seven-Point Agreement dissipates faster than it bubbled up, it looks like the president is about to restrain a second Maoist prime minister.
Yadav is said to have been troubled by last week’s recommendation by the cabinet that he pardon Maoist legislator Balakrishna Dhungel, who was convicted by the Supreme Court in a murder case.
In an apparent effort to pre-empt the president, Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai, accompanied by the attorney general – a Maoist activist – met Yadav last week to press Dhungel’s case. The prime minister’s visit reportedly infuriated the president, who, Maila Baje understands, took it as an act of executive brazenness.
Arguing that the murder took place during the Maoist insurgency – ostensibly when abuses of the ultimate nature were carried out by both sides – the cabinet said Dhungel case was ‘political’ in nature. Accordingly, the Bhattarai government claims, the case falls within the purview of the presidential pardon the interim constitution stipulates.
A section of the Maoists maintains that the pardon stems from the framework of the peace agreement. But that claim cuts little ice. Dr. Bhattarai was roundly criticized by the United Nations, opposition parties, and human rights organizations, among others. Maoist secretary C.P. Gajurel, who belongs to the rival Mohan Baidya faction, wants the government to withdraw the decision forthwith (although his argument is that all conflict-era cases should be resolved together.)
In a statement laced more with mischief than anything else, Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal claimed that the decision to grant amnesty to Dhungel was taken through consensus when CPN-UML leader Madhav Kumar Nepal was prime minister. Then the Supreme Court stepped in over the weekend, ordering a stay on the amnesty move, in response to a petition by the sister of the murder victim.
Upon arrival from the Maldives after attending the SAARC summit, Dr. Bhattarai trained his guns – for now – on ‘dollar-spinning’ human rights organizations for creating needless controversy. As the prime minister maintained that the cabinet decision was irrevocable, President Yadav has begun consultations with experts and advisers. He is expected to make a decision in two or three weeks.
It is unclear whether the prime minister would retreat or confront the president. If he had his way, Dr. Bhattarai would be disinclined to do another Dahal. Yet he is far more constrained than Dahal was during the controversy surrounding the sacking and subsequent reinstatement of then army chief Rookmangad Katuwal.
The Maoists no longer carry novelty as agents of change. Dr. Bhattarai has squandered much of his political capital through personal gimmicks and haughtiness. Moreover, Deputy Prime Minister Bijay Kumar Gachchaddar, the pivot of his coalition, has virtually challenged the pardon agenda.
All this has prompted Minister for Culture Gopal Kiranti to warn of a conspiracy to have the term of the constituent assembly lapse and revert executive power to the president.
That is a lame ploy. Considering all the experiments that have taken place over the last five years in the name of creating a New Nepal and where they have led, Nepalis might be willing to endure that option.