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Political Crisis Deepens in Nepal as Deadline for Constitution Looms

Rt. Honorable President Dr. Ram Baran Yadav administering the oath of office to Prime Minister Jhala Nath khanal in February 2011

Nepal’s 3-year-old Constituent Assembly is scheduled to expire on 28th May 2011. The assembly has a mandate to carve a new republic and federal statute. Political crisis is looming large in the Himalayan country as political parties have failed to reach an agreement on the modality of a future constitution and new roadmap for peace.

The general life across the country is crippled by daily strikes called by different organizations against the backdrop of the failure to write a constitution and lack of tangible progress on peace process.  The fate and future of 19,000 former Maoist guerillas also hangs in the balance.

The government has extended a prohibition order within the premises of Nepal’s parliament building since Monday. The order bans citizens from holding protests and rallies. The move is a clear reaction to immense anger among the public about the protracted political deadlock.  The impasse has dragged on for the last two years since the Maoist government was toppled from power in May 2008.

The issue of integration and rehabilitation of more than 19,000 former Maoist combatants languishing in 28 major and satellite camps has been the prime bone of contention among the key political players of Nepal.

The lethargy likely to be invited by a constitutional void and could pose serious political repercussions. The worried international community is trying to defuse the political tension among the political actors.

The main opposition Nepali Congress party has been obstructing the parliament proceedings since Monday in an attempt to oppose the Government’s bid to extend the term of Assembly by another year. If the incumbent Constituent Assembly topples, there will be a political and constitutional void in Nepal and the present Interim Constitution will be scrapped.

Senior Maoist leader C P Gajurel recently told a press conference:

“There is no provision in the constitution that the president can take over and we are not in a position to raise our weapons again.”

India, China, the US, UK and other European countries are worried about the situation and upped their consultation on Tuesday in Kathmandu. The international community has pledged millions of dollar in Nepal’s peace development fund since Nepal started the ambitious peace process at the end of 2006.

The worried UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon also expressed his concern that despite the fast approaching deadline for the Constituent Assembly to complete its work by 28 May 2011, there is still no agreement on the important issues that divide the parties, namely on the integration and rehabilitation of former Maoist combatants and key aspects of the constitution.

The 601 Constituent Assembly members are not to be blamed for the delay in writing a new constitution, parliamentary party leader of the main opposition Nepali Congress party, Ram Chandra Poudel said: “instead the parties and the people who do not want timely statute in the country are responsible for this”, he added.

Nepal has been undergoing huge political transition following the declaration of Republic and secularism in 2006, when Nepal’s Maoist party agreed to join the mainstream politics. The decade long insurgency launched by the Maoist party in 1996 killed more than 13,000 people, thousands disappeared and millions were displaced from their home. After the Maoists agreed to join mainstream politics in 2006, a massive people’s uprising flushed out the centuries’ old monarchy from Nepal, loosing the Hindu nation’s identity.

In the elections for the Constituent Assembly, the Maoist party emerged as single largest party in the Assembly, virtually defeating the democratic forces. The pull and push is all about whether Nepal should opt for a democratic or a communist regime. The Nepali Congress which has long-standing democratic credentials wants a democratic constitution whereas the Maoists want to set up a communist regime.

About Anil Giri

Writes for The Kathmandu Post, the leading English newspaper in Nepal. Earlier, he was stationed in New Delhi as a Chief of Bureau for The Himalayan Times. He has worked for AHN, the US based new agency, The Guardian, Korea Times and others.

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