Nepal: Oli government prepares for clemency to ex-Maoist leaders serving jail term

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The recent unification of the two Communist parties having a near two-third majority in the parliament is being seen as a precursor of political stability and economic prosperity in Nepal. But many people are apprehensive. Sher Bahadur Deuba, former prime minister and currently the chief of the main opposition Nepali Congress, said it might well be the beginning of Nepal’s journey towards ‘totalitarianism’.

While there is a government with two-third majority (in parliament), first time in 28 years of Nepal’s parliamentary history, certain ominous signs indicate that the government may flex its ‘majority muscles’ the way it wants and not the way the constitution would expect it to.

A new party, the Communist Party of Nepal, was formed last week after the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist led by K P Oli and Nepal Communist Party-Maoist Centre led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda dissolved their parties and became part of it.

Parallel to the formation of the new party and the government led by K P Oli acquiring absolute majority, it has begun an exercise to grant ‘presidential clemency’ to an erstwhile Maoist leader and legislator serving a life term as a murder convict.

“Under instruction from the ruling party leaders, the prison department has recommended for presidential pardon to Balkrishna Dhungel for good behaviour along with 800 others who are undergoing jail term for various crimes,” an official source said. Dhungel had killed Ujjain Shrestha, a businessman and a ‘class enemy from eastern Nepal’s Okhaldhunga district in 1999, and was awarded a life term by the Supreme Court convicting him for murder.

The jail manual suggests that certain categories of people serving jail term may be granted presidential pardon on some occasions, but those convicted in murder, rape, human trafficking and corruption cases do not fall in that category. In fact, the issue becomes a real test case for President Bidhya Devi Bhandari since she has to go strictly by the statute, and more importantly, her predecessor Ram Baran Yadav had refused to pardon Dhungel, when Baburam Bhattarai, a Maoist leader, had recommended for it when he was the Prime Minister six years ago.

Oli is under pressure from the erstwhile Maoist side to grant general amnesty to all its leaders and workers for human right violation cases during the decade-long war that the Maoists fought from 1996. This is much against the letter and spirit of the peace process that envisages suitable punishment to both the Maoists and those representing the state on recommendation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, that has been totally kept away from the process and preparations for granting pardon to Dhungel.

The UML that had been taking tough stand on the human right issue earlier, has been visibly ambivalent after UML and the Maoists formed a pre-poll alliance in October ultimately merging into one party last week.

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