Nepal teetered on the brink of political chaos yesterday, with parliament’s term set to expire and rival party leaders unable to agree on an extension.
Several days of talks between the three biggest political parties have failed to secure a breakthrough and the troubled country now faces the prospect of trying to work without a functioning legislature.
The term of the current parliament, or Constituent Assembly, ended at midnight last night.
The assembly was elected in 2008 with the task of writing a new constitution within two years, to pave the way for fresh polls this year, but has singularly failed.
The constitution was to have turned the page on a decade-long insurgency waged against the state by Maoists, who won elections in 2008 and took power for nine months but who have sat in opposition for the past year.
Two years of bickering have produced no agreement on the wording of the constitution, and now the Maoists, who hold most of the seats, are refusing to vote for a bill extending the assembly’s term unless the prime minister stands down.
Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal, better known as Prachanda, has been locked in talks with the leaders of the ruling Communist Party of Nepal (UML) and Nepali Congress to press his demands for a new power-sharing government.
But the other parties are refusing to buckle, resulting in the current deadlock and prompting a call from UN chief Ban Ki-moon for party leaders to work out their differences.
“Now is the time to put national interests first,” Ban said.
Newspapers warned that a failure to find a solution could mean a return to a civil war in which at least 16,000 people died.
“There is a strong possibility that this day could become the worst in our history,” said the Nepalese-language daily Naya Patrika in an editorial yesterday. “If the Constituent Assembly is dissolved, it will be an open invitation to civil war.”
UML chairman Jhalanath Khanal yesterday pledged to “keep all options open to make sure that the sovereignty of the people is protected.”
The leaders of the three parties planned to meet later yesterday, but there was no indication that either side was ready to compromise.