Nepal fails to get new constitution for third time

August 30th, 2011 - 2:06 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, Aug 30 (IANS) Ahead of a deadline Wednesday, Nepal’s major parties conceded they would not be able to promulgate the new, much-awaited constitution in time, for the third time in a row, and gave themselves three more months to complete the task.

Now Nepal’s newly elected Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai begins his tenure with a reprieve. Instead of Aug 31, he will have to promulgate the new constitution by Nov 30.

After the India-educated scholar was sworn in as Nepal’s new prime minister Monday, parliament convened to amend the interim constitution and extend the Aug 31 deadline for enforcing the new constitution to Nov 30.

In a way, the decision was a welcome change from the earlier deadline days fraught with tension and inter-party rivalry.

On the last three such occasions, it led to marathon parliament sessions lasting well after midnight, followed by the resignation of the prime minister.

But despite being saved from such last-minute drama, the new Maoist premier began to face other tough hurdles Tuesday.

Though the 57-year-old met the leaders of the largest opposition party, the Nepali Congress, and asked them to join his government, he was turned down.

“The Maoists have promised to conclude the peace process and disband their guerrilla army within 45 days,” said Sushil Koirala, Nepali Congress chief.

“We will first wait for them to honourably discharge that pledge as well as other peace commitments they made, like return the public properties they captured during the insurgency.”

Within the next 44 days, Bhattarai has to live up to his promise or come under fire from the people, the opposition and even some of his own allies who warned him during Sunday’s election that they were providing only conditional support.

If the Jawaharlal Nehru University scholar fails to woo the opposition, his government will become doomed after Nov 30, like his predecessors’.

Each earlier government was handicapped by feuds within the ruling parties themselves and with allies over power-sharing.

Communist leader Jhala Nath Khanal, who preceded Bhattarai, had been expanding his cabinet even 13 days before he was forced to quit due to protracted differences with his major ally, the Maoists, over key ministries.

Bhattarai too faces the same dilemma.

On Monday, he failed to name a full cabinet due to disagreements within the three factions in his own party as well as with the five allies, whose crucial support made him clinch the election Sunday.

Even on Tuesday, the Maoist party meeting chaired by party chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda failed to reach an amicable understanding on naming the other ministers.

Given the past bitterness between Bhattarai and Prachanda, political analysts predict Bhattarai could face the toughest challenge to his government from the Maoist supremo himself.

Finally, there are doubts within the Maoists themselves about the Nov 30 deadline.

The party had wanted six months more but was refused by the other major parties. It means the former rebels could fail to produce the draft constitution by Nov 30 and seek three months more, which could lead to the fall of the Bhattarai government unless it shows considerable progress in the disbanding of the Maoist army.

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

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