Kathmandu: Nepal's Supreme Court chief justice was named head of government Wednesday in a cross-party agreement handing him the task of trying to lead the country toward elections in June.
"The parties have agreed to send a proposal to the president to remove the constitutional hurdles to form an election government," Deputy Prime Minister Narayan Kaji Shrestha said, adding that parties had reached an agreement on contentious issues.
Shrestha said the government, headed by the chief justice, will be comprised of 11 top formal government officials and that elections will be held by June 21.
Supreme Court chief justice Khilraj Regmi, 64, who has been the apex court's top judge since May 2011, is scheduled to be sworn in as the head of government by the president late Wednesday night.
The decision came on the eve of a hearing in the Supreme Court on a case opposing the chief justice's appointment as head of government. A special bench, excluding Regmi, is scheduled to hear the case.
Nepal has been mired in political deadlock since parliament was dissolved last May.
Maoist Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai announced in February that he would step down once the nation's four largest parties ended the protracted stalemate.
Ram Chandra Poudel, a leader from the Nepali Congress, a major opposition party, said the government will hold elections as soon as possible.
"Only if things get out of control, we will defer the elections until November," he said. But political analysts have doubts.
"This has paved the way for holding the elections, so in that sense it's a breakthrough," Sudheer Sharma, editor in chief of Nepal's Kantipur newspaper said.
"But there has been very vocal opposition for the government headed by Chief Justice, and I don't think this government will be able to conduct polls by June," he said.
Regmi's name was first floated as a potential candidate at elections earlier this year by Maoist party chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, or Prachanda, at the party's first post-war convention.
Prime Minister Bhattarai announced elections for November last year but the election commission said it lacked a legal framework to conduct polls and opposition parties demanded his resignation.
Nepal emerged from 10 years of civil war between government forces and Maoist rebels in 2006 but lawmakers elected to write a new constitution failed to reach consensus on the charter amid a series of shaky coalition administrations.
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."
A challenge to the legality of Regmi's appointment is scheduled to begin before a special bench in the Supreme Court on Thursday.
Some of the strongest opposition to the agreement has come from a breakaway Maoist faction, some of whose supporters clashed with police in Kathmandu on Thursday.
Dev Gurung, a leader of the faction, announced a five-hour strike for Thursday 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," said Gurung.
Nepal's civil war pitting Maoist rebels against government forces claimed more than 16,000 lives and 1,000 people remain missing.
The toppling of the Hindu king in 2008 and installation of a republic instilled hope for stability, but political consensus has been elusive.
The former constituent assembly extended its tenure four times but still failed to agree on a new constitution.
Elections had been due last November after an announcement from Maoist prime minister Baburam Bhattarai, who has made way for Regmi.
But the election commission said it lacked a legal framework to conduct polls and opposition parties demanded that Bhattarai stand aside in the lead-up to any vote.