Sunday, February 24, 2013

Cold Feet Or Part Of The Script?

Chief Justice Khil Raj Regmi
For nearly a month, as Nepal churned in controversy over the political establishment’s attempt to entrust the government to Chief Justice Khil Raj Regmi, the man himself remained tight lipped.
The silence was far from dignified. Some speculated that Regmi’s refusal to speak on something that split the political class, including the four principal parties pushing the initiative, bespoke his covetousness for the top executive position.
When the proponents finally got around to formally requesting Regmi to head an election government, the chief justice turned ambivalent. First, he seemed to loathe the specific – albeit still-unspecified – conditions set by the parties. Then he thought of the reputation he had built during his long career in the judicial branch. One more excuse or the other has popped up since.
While Regmi has not pronounced an emphatic final no, the advocates of a chief justice-led government have started looking like lily-livered clowns. From the outset, the proposal was an admission of failure by the political fraternity. Now, leaders had to virtually supplicate before the man to save what remained of their reputations.
Maila Baje agrees that Regmi could have saved us a lot of time and energy if he had been more upfront about his intentions from the beginning. In fairness, though, he didn’t really have that much explaining to do. He didn’t step forth and present himself as a potential head of government. Some leaders of the principal political parties were bent on installing a ‘non-political’ government from all angles.
There was much politicking going around within these four parties before they settled on the chief justice. While the ruling faction of the Maoists seemed more united behind the idea, the Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and the Madhesi parties were deeply divided. Traditional factional maneuverings guided individual leaders’ position. If Regmi refused to become part of this sordid play, you could hardly blame him.
It has since emerged that the intrigues ran deeper. Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal was credited with the idea of amalgamating the executive and judicial branches in the legislative emptiness as part of some dazzling conspiratorial design. Dahal endured much opprobrium, too, before and after the Maoist party convention in Hetauda.
Then Nepali Congress leaders Ram Chandra Poudel and Krishna Prasad Sitaula separately insisted that the idea of a chief justice-led election government was really the brainchild of President Ram Baran Yadav. Yadav, for his part, conceived of the notion during his visit to India.
Then things got a bit outlandish. After the Maoist convention, Indian Ambassador Jayant Prasad reportedly reprimanded Dahal for having uttered such an inanity. The Maoist chairman then did a 180 and, with a straight face, claimed he had never made the suggestion. By then, the leaders of the other three parties/groupings had considerably warmed up to the idea, despite continuing turbulence within their own respective organizations.
Where did this leave India? Its widely assumed principal spokesman Surya Bahadur Thapa of the Rastriya Janashakti Party spoke against the proposal with all the scorn he could muster. But K.P. Sharma Oli of the CPN-UML, another voice believed to convey Indian thinking, took his own U-turn to support the idea.
While the Indians are known to play from all sides of the field, the Europeans stuck out their necks the farthest, urging Nepali leaders to suspend constitutional subtleties to hold elections. That forced Nepali Congress President Sushil Koirala – the most aggrieved man in the race to succeed Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai – to reveal that the parties accepted the proposal amid mounting international pressure. Now C.P. Mainali of CPN-ML – never one to fade into oblivion – suggests that Dahal be given leadership of an election government.
Something crucial is lost amid the wrangling over who should lead an election government. Let’s assume that free and fair elections were held in time. How long might the new house be able to hold on to its mandate?
Coming back to the original question: did Regmi get cold feet or was his stance part of the script all along? Does it really matter?