Crisis looms in Nepal as deputy PM quits

Agence France-Presse
Nepal's deputy premier announces his resignation, triggering disarray in current efforts to write a new constitution

KATHMANDU, Nepal – Nepal’s efforts to write a new constitution and avoid a fresh political crisis were in disarray on Thursday, May 24, after the deputy premier announced his resignation amid deep divisions in government.

Krishna Sitaula said he was stepping down from the troubled Himalayan nation’s unity government, which has until Sunday, May 27, to draw up a first peacetime statute, or risk the legislature being disbanded.

“I am no longer in the cabinet from today. It is up to the party to decide whether to stay in the government but there is no relevance in me staying in the government,” he told reporters.

Sitaula said the move was in protest over controversial government plans to ask lawmakers to give the repeatedly extended Constituent Assembly another three months to finish writing the constitution.

The proposal goes against a Supreme Court ruling prohibiting any more extensions of the assembly, which was elected in 2008 with a two-year tenure that has been renewed four times.

The new constitution is seen as crucial to helping end instability that has plagued Nepal since the end of the 10-year Maoist insurgency in 2006 that left 16,000 dead and led to the overthrow of the monarchy.

But the major parties have been unable to agree on crucial issues such as the names, number and boundaries of states under a new federal structure.

Sitaula’s Nepali Congress and the Unified Marxist Leninist party, the second and third biggest groups in the Maoist-led coalition, have rejected the extension and demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai.

“We can’t accept their demand because the constitution drafting is stuck and now they have zeroed in on his resignation,” Barsha Man Pun, a Maoist minister, told reporters.

“We are concentrating our efforts to promulgate the constitution by May 27. And, as an option, we have proposed a three-month extension,” Pun said.

Power vacuum

If there is no new constitution and no agreement on an extension by Sunday, parliament will be disbanded ahead of fresh elections, creating a destabilizing power vacuum.

Ethnic factions across the troubled nation have been pressuring the government to recognise their rights in the long-awaited constitution, with protests often spilling into violence.

On Wednesday, thousands gathered in central Kathmandu to press for peace and the new statute, while a shutdown by protesters that crippled life for weeks in the far west resumed on Thursday. – Agence France-Presse

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