Death of a dream in Nepal

Kathmandu, May 28 (IANS) Protests and scathing criticism of the major political parties began to mount in Nepal Friday after the dream of a new constitution shattered and a unprecedented crisis loomed only hours away.

Angry protesters kept vigil in front of the constituent assembly in Kathmandu, asking the parties to save the elected body from annihilation. However, there was little hope that their voice would be heard as the two major ruling parties and the opposition Maoists still remained deadlocked in a fierce dispute with just a few hours left for the dissolution of the government and all constitutional bodies.

‘There should have been rejoicing today (Friday) with a new constitution being unveiled as per an agreement made two years ago,’ private television station Avenues said.

‘However, the public squares where the first blows for democracy were struck remain deserted after the leaders frittered away two years in five-star hotels, red-ribbon ceremonies and foreign junkets.’

The crisis, deepening since the fall of the Maoist government last year, heads for a climax at midnight unless the parties are able to thrash out a last-minute agreement.

‘Our stand is clear, Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal must resign first and a national unity government be formed,’ said Dinanath Sharma, spokesman of the Maoist party that is blaming the ruling alliance for the failure to promulgate a new constitution.

‘The Maoists are nowhere when it comes to the key posts,’ Sharma said.

‘The president, prime minister, vice-president, deputy PM, constituent assembly chairman and chairman of the constitutional committee — they are all from the ruling parties. So the blame for the failure is theirs.’

The embattled PM, who has been resisting mounting pressure both at home and from the international community to step down, ruled out resigning while his biggest ally, the Nepali Congress (NC) party, counter-accused the Maoists of imperilling the constitution-writing process.

‘The Maoists used the constituent assembly as a political tool,’ NC leader and former deputy PM Ram Chandra Poudel said. ‘The prime minister is not going to quit simply to please the Maoists.’

The failure of the parties to promulgate a new constitution means the constituent assembly, also serving as Nepal’s parliament, will be dissolved at midnight. Along with it, the government will also be dissolved.

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.

The only way out is amending the constitution and extending the Friday midnight deadline.

However, though the ruling parties have tabled a motion in parliament to amend the statute, the Maoists have introduced a veto.

The battle will continue on the floor of the house when the motions are put to vote. Neither side will win since an amendment needs the support of two-thirds of the 601 lawmakers. With the Maoists holding over 40 percent of the seats, the government will not be able to secure the extension unless the former rebels capitulate.

Though the house was to have convened at 8 a.m., it failed to do so even late afternoon, adding to the public frustration and uncertainty.

A lawmaker began a fast unto death in front of the constituent assembly in protest while in Pokhara city, a man who had taken part in the pro-democracy protests in 2006 began burning effigies of the lawmakers.

In towns outside Kathmandu valley, protesters began marches, warning lawmakers not to return home till they had completed their task.

It is not clear yet what will happen after midnight if the deadlock continues.

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.