Nepal begins countdown to crisis

May 2nd, 2011 - 2:44 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, May 2 (IANS) The countdown to another crisis started in Nepal Monday with only 26 days left to get the new constitution ready and top leaders admitting the task would not be completed despite parliament being given an extra year’s time to get the job done.

Senior Maoist leaders conceded a full constitution would not be ready by May 28; however, they said a draft could be finalised.

While speaking at a public programme in Rolpa, the western district that was the cradle of the 10-year Maoist insurgency, Minister for Peace and Reconstruction Barsha Man Pun Sunday said that three major contentious issues had delayed the new constitution.

They were restructuring Nepal into autonomous federal states, whether Nepal should have a presidential or prime ministerial form of government, and the nature of general elections, the Maoist minister said.

Though the full constitution would not be ready by May 28, Pun said a draft could be completed by then, Maoist mouthpiece Janadisha daily reported Monday.

The minister’s admission comes a day after another top leader of the former guerrilla party said the same thing.

According to Maoist deputy chief and former finance minister Baburam Bhattarai, the draft of the constitution could be ready by May 28, if the major parties agreed, along with a programme to conclude the peace process.

It indicates that the fate of nearly 20,000 Maoist fighters will not be decided by May 28, even five years after the former rebels signed a peace accord and agreed to disband their underground army.

While the Maoists are proposing to agree on a time-bound programme for the discharge and rehabilitation of their People’s Liberation Army (PLA), who are still living in 28 cantonments, it remains to be seen if the opposition agrees to it.

The parties outside the coalition government, especially the Nepali Congress, have been demanding that the PLA be discharged before the new constitution is promulgated.

Though the new Prime Minister Jhala Nath Khanal came to power in February, promising to rehabilitate the PLA within 45 days, he has been able to achieve no progress though he himself heads the committee formed to seal the fate of the PLA.

Bhattarai hinted that Khanal’s fate too would be decided after 26 days.

He said the constitutional deadline can be extended yet again, if the major parties agreed to do so, and a new consensus government would then be formed to take the peace process forward.

To win the prime ministerial election, Khanal had signed a secret pact with the Maoists, promising the government would be led by rotation if they supported him.

So after May 28, he could be asked to pay his pound of flesh and make way for a Maoist-headed government.

But a Maoist bid to power is not likely to be accepted by the Nepali Congress, the second largest party in parliament after the Maoists.

Since the election in 2008 and the fall of the Maoist government a year later, the Nepali Congress has been demanding to lead the government but was sidestepped by an opportunistic Maoist-communist alliance.

Now barring a last-minute miracle, Nepal seems destined for a repetition of past history with the three major parties warring for power while time runs out yet again.

The new constitution was to have been ready by May 28, 2010. When the bickering parties failed to meet the deadline, they amended the constitution and extended it by another year.

(Sudeshna Sarkar can be contacted at sudeshna.s@ians.in)

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