Nepal’s leaders held urgent talks yesterday to avoid a political crisis, with just hours remaining before a midnight deadline to agree on a new post-war constitution or face the dissolution of parliament.
The Nepalese Constituent Assembly was elected in 2008 after a decade of civil war, with a mandate to write a new national constitution and oversee the peace process that began when the conflict ended in 2006.
However, the major parties have been unable to agree on the country’s federal structure and, after several deadline extensions, the 601-member assembly faces being disbanded to make way for fresh elections.
“If you go by the talks so far, the Constituent Assembly is headed for dissolution,” said Arjun Narsingh K.C., leader of the Nepali Congress, one of the nation’s four main parties.
“We are not for the dissolution because this is the only elected body in Nepal,” he added.
More than 6,000 police were deployed around the assembly compound and across Kathmandu as talks began early yesterday.
SEARCH FOR STABILITY
The new constitution is intended to create a new secular, democratic republic following the abolition of Nepal’s centuries-old Hindu monarchy after the Maoist rebels gave up arms and won the 2008 elections.
The document also meant to give stability to the impoverished Himalayan nation and unite its more than 100 ethnic minorities in a nation traumatized by the death of 16,000 people in the civil war.
Despite four extensions of the assembly’s mandate, it has been unable to complete the far-reaching document, and the Nepalese Supreme Court has ruled that any further extensions would be illegal.
The four biggest parties in the national unity government — the Unified Marxist-Leninist, the Maoists, the Nepali Congress and the United Democratic Madhesi Front — remain at odds on the creation of federal states.
Analysts predict three possible outcomes of yesterday’s talks, with the most likely being no agreement and the subsequent dissolution of parliament.
The other scenarios are agreement on a new constitution, or a compromise which passes a constitution with the contentious issues left out to be settled after the deadline.
It is unclear what would happen if there is no agreement.
INTO THE VOID
Constituent Assembly chairman Subas Nembang has warned of a “political void,” with a caretaker government and president having no mandate, and no chamber in place to pass laws and rubber-stamp decisions.
The widespread hope in Nepal 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, and thousands of Nepalese have taken to the streets in recent weeks to protest at the lack of socio-economic progress in their country.
“No nation has drafted a constitution without turbulence. As we draw closer to writing the constitution, the atmosphere is getting charged,” Nepalese political analyst Anand Jha wrote in the Republica English-language daily.