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Dhaka Tribune

Patience fading for Nepali judge turned premier

Update : 15 Aug 2013, 10:22 AM

When Nepal’s chief justice was named head of an interim government in March, he promised he would serve only as a caretaker until he could oversee elections in June that were supposed to usher the country into an era of political stability.

Those elections never happened, and newly scheduled November polls are in doubt as well.

Meanwhile, the South Asian country – known to most outsiders for its majestic mountains and exotic, ancient culture – remains mired in political deadlock, still looking for a transition from a bloody civil war and repressive monarchy to peace and democracy.

The chief justice and interim government chief, Khilraj Regmi, has shocked even some of his supporters by proposing an extensive budget, making sweeping bureaucratic changes and exercising the full power of a prime minister.

The country’s top politicians never envisaged that Regmi would take such strong actions when they named him to the post in March as a compromise candidate they hoped could bring orderly elections to a country trying to gain normalcy.

“The government’s strategy and objective should have been only elections, but it is diverting from the main objective and focusing on governing the nation,” said Bhojraj Pokhrel, who conducted Nepal’s last election in 2008.

“They are more occupied with the administration rather than proceeding with elections,” Pokhrel said.

The fate of this nation of 29 million, which has been frozen by political paralysis, might rest with Regmi.

In May 2012, Nepal was plunged into a governing crisis. They turned to Regmi to guide Nepal through quick elections.

But Regmi failed to hold June polls. He then appointed a controversial official, Lokman Singh Karki, to head a powerful government watchdog that investigates and prosecutes politicians and officials. Karki is accused of corruption himself when he served as the chief of the customs department, and of abusing his powers to crush pro-democracy demonstrations while serving under then-King Gyanendra’s autocratic rule.

Regmi’s government also announced by fiat the fiscal budget for the whole year in July, without a parliament to question it or debate it.

His government also granted contracts to upgrade Nepal’s international airport to foreign contractors and promoted and transferred officials by the hundreds.

Dilendra Badhu of the Nepali Congress, the nation’s second-largest party and a supporter of Regmi’s appointment, said the government should not be making long-term programs and policies.

Regmi’s biggest hurdle has been the alliance of 33 small opposition parties led by the Communist Party of Nepal Maoist, a small breakaway Maoist group that has been threatening to disrupt elections scheduled for November 19.

Regmi addressed some of the criticism in a June speech, where he insisted he was working to ensure the elections were free and fair and that voter turnout was high.

“I continue to remain unbiased,” he said.

Regmi’s refusal to resign as chief justice has also been criticised, especially because several Supreme Court cases challenging his appointment as ister keep getting postponed.

Business leaders are also losing patience with Regmi.

But for many Nepalese, he is the only hope of ending the political deadlock in the country.

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