Another Black Friday threatens Nepal, crisis at midnight

Kathmandu, May 28 (IANS) Regarded as an ill-omen day when most of Nepal’s national tragedies occurred, yet another Black Friday dawned in Nepal with a constitutional crisis looming from midnight as the country’s political leaders continued to fight over power-sharing.

It was a Friday June 1, 2001 when Nepal’s popular king Birendra and nine more members of the royal family died in a massacre in the palace, a pivotal tragedy that led to a sea-change in the sleepy Hindu kingdom that has continued even today.

On Oct 4 the following year, also a Friday, Birendra’s successor King Gyanendra dismissed the elected government of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and began appointing a series of handpicked governments in an action that escalated the political crisis and finally brought the downfall of monarchy.

Now eight years later, yet another Friday catastrophe awaits the turbulent Himalayan country with its current parliament and government headed for dissolution from midnight after a protracted feud for power prevented the major parties from promulgating a new constitution by May 28.

With the new statute yet to be drafted, the ruling parties are trying to amend the constitution and extend the deadline.

However, in keeping with their chracteristic tardiness, the amendment proposal, which was to have been tabled in parliament by Friday morning, was deferred as the parties began a furious last-round of discussions to plan emergency strategies.

The Maoists, now the biggest party holding nearly 40 percent seats in the 601-member house, continued to reiterate their stand that they would not allow the deadline to be extended till Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal resigned and paved the way for a new government under their leadership.

The besieged prime minister continued to refuse to step down while the second-biggest party, the Nepali Congress, said it was supporting him.

The same stalemate has persisted since last year after the short-lived Maoist government fell and a new ruling alliance headed by the communists took its place.

If the Maoists stick to their refusal, the government gets dissolved from midnight. It is not clear yet what will happen after that.

The ruling parties say the government can continue for another six months as a caretaker government.

However, to do that, it will have to declare a state of emergency, which can be justified only if there is a war or natural calamity.

Some legal experts say the president, till now a constitutional head, will have to take over. The president will then appoint a caretaker prime minister or do what he deems fit.

President Ram Baran Yadav Thursday summoned the ruling parties and the Maoists and urged them to reach an agreement. The advice however fell on deaf ears.

The interim parliament became the cynosure of all eyes Friday with crowds swelling before it, tense and uncertain.

A decision is expected only minutes away from midnight.

On May 29, 2008, when the house had first sat after the elections, it took almost midnight for the lawmakers to formally proclaim an end to monarchy and consolidate Nepal’s status as a secular, federal republic.