Nepal’s political leaders narrowly avoided a constitutional crisis yesterday by agreeing to give parliament a three-month reprieve to complete its work, but they remain deeply divided on key issues.
The deal, in which the prime minister agreed to stand down after less than four months in office, followed days of tense negotiations over the future of Nepal’s 601-member parliament, or Constituent Assembly.
The assembly was elected in 2008 after a decade of civil war with a two-year mandate to write a new constitution and oversee the peace process that began when the conflict ended in 2006.
The new constitution was intended to pave the way for fresh elections, but despite a 12-month extension agreed last year, the assembly has so far been unable to complete even a draft version, amid deep divisions.
Under the latest agreement, reached just before dawn after talks dragged into the early hours of yesterday, the parties pledged to produce at least a draft of the charter by Aug. 28 for the public to see.
They also promised to address the major outstanding issues of the peace process, which include the integration of thousands of former Maoist rebel fighters into the national security forces and the establishment of a commission to investigate wartime rights abuses.
However, the constitution is a far-reaching document that seeks to create a new secular, democratic republic following the abolition of Nepal’s centuries-old Hindu monarchy in 2008, and similar pledges have been broken in the past.
The three biggest parties — the ruling Unified Marxist-Leninist, the Maoists and the main opposition Nepali Congress — remain at odds on key issues such as the creation of federal states where none currently exist.
“Three months is not very far away,” said Yubaraj Ghimire, a political commentator.
“They have bought some time, but I don’t know if they can settle the big issues like federalism, or the setting up of a truth and reconciliation commission [in that time].”
Nepali Prime Minister Jhalanath Khanal agreed to step down once a new power-sharing government could be formed, although no time frame was given.
Khanal, who was only elected in February after 16 failed attempts to vote in a new leader, leads a coalition government that includes the former rebel Maoists, the largest party in parliament.
The widespread hope that followed the end of the civil war and the abolition of the unpopular monarchy has been replaced by a growing sense of anger and frustration.
Political instability has stifled economic growth, forcing many people to seek work overseas.
Thousands of Nepalese have taken to the streets of the capital in recent days to protest at the lack of progress in their country.
In a statement released ahead of yesterday’s deal, Nepali President Ram Baran Yadav urged the parties to work together to ensure the new constitution succeeded.
“We all are concerned that the Constituent Assembly failed to promulgate a constitution despite the one-year extension,” he said.
“However, there is no alternative [but] to complete the constitution-making process through mutual trust and agreement,” he said.