Nepal parties haggle as parliament faces dissolution (Lead)

May 28th, 2011 - 7:59 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, May 28 (IANS) With Nepal’s constitution and parliament slated to expire at midnight, the republic’s three major political parties were still deadlocked in feverish bargaining, and as hundreds of protesters gathered near parliament the government put security on high alert in the capital.

The Maoists, who share the power with the Unified Marxist-Leninist Party of Prime Minister Jhala Nath Khanal, have refused to surrender arms - a sore point with the opposition Nepali Congress - but in a conciliatory gesture offered to withdraw People’s Liberation Army bodyguards of its top leaders.

“The talks are based on three issues,” former Maoist peace and reconstruction minister Barsha Man Pun Ananta, a former PLA commander, said. “There should not be any attempt to humiliate one particular group.”

The issues are: peace process with the Maoists demanding the creation of an environment of mutual trust, a guarantee by all the parties that the new constitution would be completed, and power-sharing.

The Nepali Congress (NC) is demanding that the Maoists hand over the arms of their People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to the government by Saturday midnight.

The former rebels have rejected the demand as an attempt to humiliate the PLA, that they say made a whopping contribution to the fall of Nepal’s autocratic monarchy.

“We are not ready to surrender the arms we obtained through the blood and sweat of our martyred comrades,” said Maoist chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who has also refused to give up his war-time name Prachanda - meaning awesome - even five years after signing the peace accord.

However, as a conciliatory gesture, Ananta said his party is ready to withdraw the PLA bodyguards provided to its top leaders.

Nepal’s first pro-people constitution was to have been promulgated by May 28, 2010, as the cornerstone of a peace accord that ended a decade of Maoist insurgency.

However, the 601-member parliament, elected to write the new constitution, failed to deliver with the communists, Maoists and the Nepali Congress remaining tangled in a protracted battle for power.

This time last year, when the interim constitution was to expire, plunging the country into an unprecedented vacuum, the three buried the hatchet in a midnight drama and extended the life of the statute by a year.

However, records showed parliament had sat for only 95 minutes during the extended year, leaving the new constitution still incomplete.

Now fresh doom threatens Nepal at midnight, when the term of the interim constitution ends, and with it that of parliament and the government as well.

The three parties are back to where they were last year, still squabbling while trying to push for another extension.

While Prime Minister Jhala Nath Khanal is proposing a further one-year extension, the move is bound to drag the government into legal battles.

Nepal’s Supreme Court ruled this week that the government had acted wrongly by extending the life of the interim constitution and parliament in 2010.

The apex court also said if the government tried to extend the deadline agan, it would be subject to judicial review.

Some of the opposition parties are calling for Khanal’s resignation while the royalists are asking that parliament be dissolved Saturday midnight and fresh elections announced to appoint a new parliament.

Human rights activists, former MPs, the relatives of people killed or disabled during the pro-democracy movement of 2006 and women sat near parliament, demanding a new constitution and flaying the three bickering parties for turning a blind eye to the people who elected them.

The government this week banned all rallies within 50 metres of parliament and riot police swooped down on former legislators, herding them into vans.

With mobs seeking to incite violence and setting ablaze vehicles during a general strike Friday, Home Minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara held consultations with the security forces, asking them to remain on high alert.

Nearly 18,000 police personnel have been deployed in Kathmandu city alone.

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