Nepal Constitution In Stalemate


Kathmandu: A sombre Nepal parliament on Tuesday bailed the government out of a potential constitutional crisis by agreeing to give it six more months to produce a new constitution after the fourth failure in a row to come up with the statute regarded as the cornerstone of the peace agreement that ended a decade of Maoist insurgency.

”It has been agreed to extend the time for drafting the new constitution by six months more,” Information and Communications Minister Jay Prakash Gupta announced after parliament sat to vote on the proposal by the Maoist-led government to seek an extension and endorsed it with 505 of the 508 MPs supporting the motion.

Now the lawmakers and major parties, publicly reviled for their failure to draft the new statute repeatedly, will have to show the new document by May-end. Should they fail a fifth time, the house will be dissolved and the government will have to hold fresh elections or seek referendum, as per a stern Supreme Court order last week.

The only silver lining shown by the Baburam Bhattarai government was its ability to handle the crisis sooner than later. In the past, lawmakers scrabbled till the last minute, causing the vote to extend the constitution deadline take place often after midnight and then lead to the collapse of the incumbent government.

However, though Bhattarai escapes an immediate ouster, more complications could arise in future with his party on Tuesday signing an agreement, with both allies and the major opposition parties, for the formation of a “national unity” government.

Since 2008, when the Maoists won the election but still fell short of mustering simple majority, Nepal has seen a long quest for a consensus government with three premiers claiming such an alliance but being forced to step down.

The new six-point agreement signed on Tuesday between the Maoists, their ally the ethnic parties from the Terai plains, and the opposition Nepali Congress and communists, has also decided to complete major steps in the peace process by Dec 15. It will draw up a time-table for drafting the new constitution by Dec 6.

The major tasks to be completed include the discharge of the Maoists’ guerrilla army. The People’s Liberation Army with its nearly 20,000 fighters have three options: induction in the national army, voluntary retirement with a cash compensation or rehabilitation. So far, nearly 60 percent of the over 16,000 combatants interviewed have said they want to join the army.

With the Maoists agreeing that a maximum of 6,500 fighters would find berth in the army, the government would have to plan new measures to address the fate of those who have opted for army life but fail to make the grade.

The government will also have to come up with a map to restructure Nepal into autonomous states that will be acceptable to all the ethnic and indigenous communities. Last but not the least, it will have to make the Maoist cadre return the public properties they grabbed during the “People’s War” and have been loath to return even now, five years after the civil war ended.

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