Nepal heading for major political crisis

More than two years after a Constituent Assembly was elected to help guide Nepal out of years of civil war and political upheaval, the constitution it was supposed to draft remains unwritten amid endless political bickering.

On May 28, the Assembly's tenure — and the provisional constitution governing the nation — expires. Without a new constitution or an extension of that deadline, chaos is almost certain.

With the deadline approaching, the former Maoist rebels who now control the largest party in parliament have repeatedly shut down the streets of Katmandu with protests, demanding they be given the reigns of power. The government has resisted, but still needs Maoist votes to come to a resolution.

"The prime minister has been meeting leaders from various political parties and even the president to work out a solution," Law Minister Prem Bahadur Singh said. "There is no alternative to extending the Constituent Assembly or the country will plunge into a crisis."

The status of the government becomes unclear if there is no extension. However, Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal has insisted he will not step down, even without one.

Political crises are nothing new to Nepal, which faced 10 years of fighting between government forces and Maoist rebels. In 2006, the Maoists gave up their armed revolt and joined the peace process.

Then-King Gyanendra, who had seized absolute power in 2005, was forced to give up authoritarian rule in 2006 after weeks of street protests. He was soon stripped of all his powers. In 2008, Nepal was declared a republic, the Constituent Assembly was elected and the centuries-old monarchy was ended.

The Maoists won top billing in that vote, and led a coalition government that appeared on target to draft the new constitution and cement peace, stability and democracy to this Himalayan nation.

But nine months later, the Maoist prime minister resigned — though the Maoists kept their seats in the Assembly — amid a dispute with the president.

Since then, the Maoists have been protesting both inside the Assembly and in the streets, demanding that the new prime minister step down and that they be returned to power. Meanwhile, disputes over the shape of the constitution have stymied the drafting process.

To extend the provisional constitution would require a two-thirds vote of parliament, but with the Maoists in control of 40 percent of the seats, no deal can be sealed without their agreement.

Lilamani Pokhrel, a top Maoist leader, said there will be no negotiations until the prime minister steps down.

"The base line for ending the stalemate is the prime minister's resignation, everything else comes only after that," Pokhrel said.

Once he quits, the Maoists say they're ready to discuss anything — the peace process, the constitution and the formation of a new government.

But the squabbling between the top three parties — the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist Leninist) — has nearly frozen the political process.

Negotiators from those three parties have been meeting this week in informal sessions, but Ram Sharan Mahat of the Nepali Congress said there had been little progress.

Constitutional expert Bhimarjun Acharya said it was the parties' incompetence that brought the country to the point of political vacuum.

"These parties are the reason why the assembly failed to write the constitution. A new constitution cannot be made until these parties agree in theory what the new constitution will be and are genuinely sincere," he said.

source AFP

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