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Kathmandu at crossroads

Constitutions have short lifespan in Nepal. The country was to get its new constitution — the seventh in 62 years — on Friday. But differences between political parties didn't let it happen. Constitutional Milestone
Hindustan Times | By Utpal Parashar, Kathmandu
UPDATED ON MAY 28, 2010 12:59 AM IST

Constitutions have short lifespan in Nepal. The country was to get its new constitution — the seventh in 62 years — on Friday. But differences between political parties didn't let it happen.

Despite uncertainty and a possible crisis, a last minute solution may still be arrived at and the tenure of the Constituent Assembly, which expires on May 28, extended to get the statute drafted.

In the meantime the interim constitution adopted in January 2007 would be in force. Nepal has a history of interim constitutions lasting several years — the last one in 1951 remained effective for eight years.

Since the 2006 peace accord between government and Maoist rebels, the Himalayan nation has witnessed unexpected changes like the world's only Hindu kingdom turning a secular republic.

But delay in the latest statute, which was expected to decide on the type of government, restructure the country and bring in judicial, administrative, social and political reforms have disappointed most Nepalis.

A year-long agitation and long absence from Constituent Assembly by opposition Maoists affected constitution drafting.

However, instead of focusing on the task at hand political parties are busy in a power tussle.

Maoists are seeking Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal's removal and formation of a government headed by them. The ruling parties have refused to budge and endless talks have failed to break the deadlock. Support of the Maoists who have 40 per cent representation in CA is crucial to amend the interim constitution and extend the Constituent Assembly's tenure.

Questions are also being raised on such an extension as the interim constitution says that the CA tenure can be extended up to six months if the new constitution gets delayed due to imposition of emergency.

On Thursday, the standing committee of UCPN (Maoist) decided to stick to their previous stand on removal of PM and setting up of a national unity government headed by them in exchange for their support.

"We have taken our stand. The ball is now in the court of the ruling parties," said Maoist spokesperson Dinanath Sharma after the meeting.

Maoist Manoeuvre

Having failed in regaining power despite strikes, shutdowns and threats, Nepal's biggest opposition party, UCPN (Maoist), is now using the power of numbers to head the next government.

But such "blackmailing" tactics may not work as the present government still enjoys majority. Not supporting extension of the CA tenure would hurt Maoists too as the country would then head for elections.

Even if they accept the Maoist demand, ruling parties may refuse to be part of a government headed by UCPN (M) chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda', 56, a hardliner known for flip-flops.

There is a fear that once in power Maoists could go back on commitments regarding return of seized properties and dismantling of the para-military like structure of its youth wing — Youth Communist League.

It is also felt that they may manipulate results of the next election, manipulate integration of former rebels still living in UN monitored cantonments and introduce 'unwelcome changes' in the constitution.

Dithering Duo
The role of two main parties in the ruling coalition — Nepali Congress and CPN (UML) in the constitution getting delayed is also suspect and they can't escape blame by targeting Maoists.

Since Girija Prasad Koirala's death in March, differences within Nepali Congress have come out to the open and acting chairman Sushil Koirala hasn't been able to play the role the late patriarch had in the peace process. Chairman of Communist Party of Nepal (UML) Jhalanath Khanal is also beset with similar problems with a senior leader going against the party line and asking the Prime Minister to resign to make way for consensus.

Indian Perspective
After playing an important role in signing of the peace accord India would have preferred to have taken a back seat and let the political forces in Nepal decide the shape of the country's future. However, its surprise at the Maoists' electoral victory and its concerns about their intentions led India to involve itself directily in Nepal's political affairs, especially on issues like formation of the Madhav Kumar Nepal government and integration of Maoist rebels.

This has not helped the southern neighbour's image in Nepal, but India is prepared to live with that so long as the Maoists are kept in line.

New Delhi is keeping close watch on developments in Kathmandu and wants parties to reach a consensus. India has not supported adherence to the present deadline because it believes the cards are still too loaded in the Maoists' direction.

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