Hurdles ahead after Nepal becomes republic

May 31st, 2008 - 9:05 am ICT by admin  

By Rabi Khadka
Kathmandu, May 31 (DPA) After Nepal’s politicians voted to abolish the monarchy, its political parties and people have turned their attention to the gruelling task of drafting the country’s new constitution and forming a new government. The constituent assembly, which did away with the king and declared Nepal a republic in its first meeting Wednesday, is tasked with drafting a constitution that reflects the aspirations of the country’s diverse ethnic groups.

With more than 50 ethnic groups clamouring for their share, the task of drawing up the constitution is to be no easy task.

Under Nepal’s interim constitution, the constituent assembly, which was elected in April, must adopt each clause of the new constitution by a two-thirds majority and must complete the work within two and half years.

“It is going to be the biggest challenge the politicians have faced in this country,” said Surendra Pandey, central member of the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML).

“We don’t have a provision for a referendum to resolve deadlocks over clauses, so everything must be done through consensus.”

Consensus seems a far-fetched notion in a country where the political parties have had a long history of squabbles over petty issues.

All the political parties represented in Parliament differ with each other on what kind of system of government they want, on the federal structure for the country, its economic agenda and ways to ensure the rights of minorities and disadvantaged groups.

“In the run-up to the elections, we have seen considerable difference among the parties over the major issues, and indications are that they are nowhere closer on the issues now,” analyst Sudarshan Shrestha said.

“Politicians have whipped up Nepal’s volatile mix of ethnic and racial sentiments to a dangerous level, and it would be difficult to address them, given the current positions of the parties,” Shrestha said.

After a strong showing at the ballot box by ethnic groups of southern Nepal, which have called for the right to self-determination for the region, denying them their demands could lead to an escalation of violence.

Southern Nepal has seen some of the worst violence in the country since the Maoists gave up their rebellion and laid down their guns nearly two years ago. At least 150 people have died in violence in southern Nepal in that time, the government said.

“We want to draft a constitution that gives an equal voice to all the ethnic communities and disadvantaged groups but not compromise on the national interest,” Pandey said. “Getting politicians to agree on those issues could be tricky.”

The main political parties also differ on what system of government should rule the country during the interim period and after the adoption of the constitution.

While the Nepali Congress wants a parliamentary system with the president as the ceremonial head of state, the Maoists want a powerful president. The third party in the equation - the CPN-UML - wants a prime minister to be directly elected by the people and the president to hold ceremonial duties.

“The system we have put forward will create checks and balances between the executive and the legislature,” Pandey said. “However, other parties have different views on the system of government.”

Political parties also face difficulties in bringing several armed groups operating in various parts of the country to the negotiating table.

“Without bringing in the insurgent groups, mainly in southern Nepal, the country is unlikely to feel a sense of peace,” Shrestha said.

The thorny issue of the 19,000 Maoist former guerrillas, who remain in UN-supervised camps, also remains undecided.

Maoist plans to integrate its fighters into the national Army has hit a deadlock with the Army and other political parties expressing opposition.

“The constituent assembly meeting will have to make a decision on the People’s Liberation Army into the national Army,” Maoist leader Ananta said. “The parties have previously agreed to resolve the issue, and the final decision now must come from the newly elected assembly.”

But if Nepal is to see its new system flourish, it must implement an economic policy that would provide employment to millions of youths and raise the living standards of its poor people.

It was from these poor communities in western Nepal that the Maoists drew their strength and launched their communist insurgency.

“The focus now must be on reviving industries, ending frequent labour strikes and resolving the acute problem of fuel as well as power supply,” Pandey said.

“Without real benefits for the people, all this change will mean nothing for the country,” Pandey added.

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