Terai demand threatens to derail Nepal’s peace process

June 29th, 2008 - 6:26 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, June 29 (IANS) Exactly a month after Nepal’s newly-elected constituent assembly held its first historic meeting and gave the death blow to the ruling Shah dynasty, the Himalayan nation’s fragile peace process has run up against a wall due to continuing protests by ethnic parties from the Terai plains in the south. For the third day Sunday, the assembly was unable to convene following angry protests and storming of the rostrum by the three Teraian parties, who have vowed not to allow any proceedings till the government implements the pact it made with them before the April election.

The protests have hindered the formation of a new government though Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala tendered his resignation in the assembly Thursday. They have also cast doubts over the possibility of the assembly fulfilling its mandate of drafting a new constitution in two years.

The three parties demanding the formation of a single autonomous Madhes state in the Terai are the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum, Terai Madhes Loktantrik Party (TMLP) and Sadbhavana Party (SP), who together have over 80 seats in the assembly and are the fourth largest bloc in the 601-member body.

The Maoists Sunday started dialogue with the three Madhes parties in a bid to find a way out of the impasse.

“We don’t want to block the assembly,” TMLP leader and former minister Sarbendra Nath Shukla told the media. “However, we are objecting to the three (ruling) parties’ attempt to amend the constitution for their own convenience and neglecting to implement an accord that was drafted much before.”

The Madhes uproar started after the three biggest parties - the Maoists, Koirala’s Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML) - tried to introduce a motion in the assembly Thursday to amend the constitution so that the stumbling block in the way of forming a new government could be removed.

While the constitution requires a new government to be able to show two-thirds majority, none of the parties have been able to do so. Therefore, they want the statute to be amended so that a new government can be formed by simple majority.

“We have no objection to that amendment,” Shukla said. “But we want our demands to be also met since the government has already committed itself in writing to implementing them.”

Besides the formation of a Madhes state for the people of the Terai - who were excluded from the administration and army for several hundred years, the Madhes parties also want proportional inclusion of the Teraian people in the army and other state organs.

Though the Koirala government agreed to the demands before the election, the actual implementation has now run into trouble.

The other parties in the government, including the Maoists and UML, are opposing it, saying it would lead to eventual secession.

Other ethnic communities from the southern arc have also begun protests in the capital, saying a Madesh state - regarded as a state for people of Indian origin - would jeopardise the existence of indigenous communities like the Tharus and mountain people.

Last but not the least, the army has also expressed its objections, saying recruitments should be made on the basis of international criteria and not political considerations.

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