Shadow of emergency dulls Buddha birth anniversary in Nepal

Kathmandu, May 27 (IANS) The shadow of emergency and President’s rule only a day away dulled Buddha Purnima festivities in Nepal, the birthplace of the Buddha, even as the world celebrated the 2,554th birth anniversary of the apostle of peace and non-violence Thursday.

Lumbini, the town in southern Nepal along the Indian border where the founder of Buddhism was born in a princely family, observed the event amidst uncertainty as an unprecedented constitutional crisis lurked from Friday midnight.

Nepal’s President Ram Baran Yadav and embattled Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal, who is fighting a protracted demand by the opposition for his resignation, cancelled their scheduled visits to Lumbini to attend Thursday’s religious celebrations as a war-like situation deepened in the capital with the major parties still at loggerheads.

Talks continued to break down between the ruling alliance and the opposition Maoist party and the nation faced the danger of parliament and the government dissolving from Friday midnight, when a constitutional deadline expires.

As per a peace accord signed between the parties and the former Maoist guerrillas four years ago, a new constitution written by the people themselves is to be promulgated by May 28.

However, the parties have failed to complete the task due to a bitter squabble over power-sharing for nearly two years.

The Maoists, who fought a 10-year war for the people’s constitution, want the prime minister to resign and lead the government since they emerged as the biggest party after elections in 2008.

The prime minister, however, has been steadfastly refusing to quit. Instead, he is asking the Maoists to help amend the constitutional deadline and disband their guerrilla army, which has nearly 20,000 combatants.

With neither side ready to back down, President’s rule and a state of emergency looms over the country.

On Thursday, in a bid to avert the disaster, the president summoned the three leaders of the three largest parties, including the Maoists, and urged them to reach an agreement at the earliest.

Time has begun running out with parliament sitting Friday to decide on the constitutional deadline.

The ruling parties have proposed that it be extended. The Maoists, on the other hand, have warned they would veto it unless the prime minister steps down.

The 601-member parliament will see a vote Friday where neither side can win on its own since a constitutional amendment requires two-third of the lawmakers to agree.

The president, who may willy-nilly find himself at the helm of the government from Friday midnight, has also held consultations with the prime minister about the future course of action.

Ironically, the new crisis comes just two years after Nepal went through a turbulent pro-democracy protest against its royal family and the Hindu kingdom was declared a secular republic.

On Saturday, a day after the midnight crisis, the country is scheduled to celebrate Republic Day.