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Nepal averts crisis but chaos remains

Though the nascent republic of Nepal managed to stave off an unprecedented constitutional crisis by a hair's breadth Friday midnight, public anger and confusion still remained, turning the celebration of Republic Day Saturday into a travesty.

world Updated: May 29, 2010 11:06 IST

Though the nascent republic of Nepal managed to stave off an unprecedented constitutional crisis by a hair's breadth Friday midnight, public anger and confusion still remained, turning the celebration of Republic Day Saturday into a travesty.

The interim parliament, which has also been mandated to write a new constitution, was saved from the jaws of death at midnight after the opposition Maoist party agreed to bail out the government and supported its bid to give the house a new lease of life.

Now, Nepal's 601 lawmakers have been given a second chance to complete the new constitution by May 27, 2011.

However, going by the past performance of the house, which was repeatedly held hostage by the major parties as they squabbled for power, it is doubtful if it would be able to draft the new constitution within the extended deadline.

"Following my party's diktat I voted to prolong the interim parliament," said Anil Kumar Jha, an MP from the Sadbhavana Party, a minor partner in the ruling coalition. "However, I do not think a new constitution will be ready in one year."

Earlier, the chief of the main opposition party had expressed the same doubt.

"The ruling parties do not want a new constitution," former revolutionary and chief of the Maoist party Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda had said at a public meeting in Kathmandu.

"They will not be able to write a new constitution even if they are given four more years to do so."

The Maoists, the most fierce opponents of extending the term of parliament, however capitulated near midnight Friday, minutes before the house was going to expire, and supported the government bid to extend its life by a year.

Once the Maoists threw their weight behind the government, 580 of the 585 MPs present at the late-night session of the house voted for the motion.

Only an individual MP from the southern Terai plains, once regarded as a wanted bandit, and four members of Nepal's only openly royalist party in parliament opposed the bid ineffectually.

Now as a reciprocal gesture, embattled Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal is expected to step down, though it is not clear when.

The Maoists Saturday claimed Nepal would quit in five days' time to make way for a new government that would also have their participation.

However, the transition may not be so smooth. Even on Friday, hours before the midnight deadline, Nepal had refused to quit, saying that he was supported by 22 of the 25 parties in parliament.

Friday's midnight drama has tarnished the images of the top three leaders of the three largest parties with the public condemning them for frittering away the sacrifices made by people, time and money from the state exchequer to promote petty party and personal interests.

There is also doubt about the clandestine last-minute understanding forged between the ruling parties and the Maoists.

One of the MPs, Sarita Giri, commented on that in the house Friday. Giri said there was no transparency about the deal. She also said the parties had the responsibility of informing the people why they could not write the new constitution by May 28, 2010 but had not done so.