Nepal Prime Minister to Resign, Constitutent Assembly Extended
Posted by onehundredflowers on June 1, 2010
from the New York Times
Nepal Avoids Political Crisis With Broad Deal to Extend Parliament
By Kiran Chapagain and Jim Yardley
KATMANDU, Nepal — Nepal averted political chaos on Friday when the leading political parties reached a last-minute agreement that prevented the dissolution of Parliament and provided another year for the Himalayan nation to complete its peace process.
Faced with a midnight deadline, Nepal’s Maoists reached a broadly worded deal with leaders of two other major political parties in which the Maoists agreed to extend the term of Parliament, the Constituent Assembly. In exchange, Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal agreed to resign at an unspecified time in the future to “pave the way” for a new government.
Members of the assembly took up the measure before midnight and passed it around 1 a.m., after leaders had signaled their approval. The Maoists had been demanding the resignation of the prime minister before Friday’s deadline as a precondition for extending the assembly. But Mr. Nepal had refused and other parties had insisted on certain commitments by the Maoists.
It appears that the agreement was worded so that both sides could claim victory; the prime minister did not resign, though the Maoists have received a written confirmation that he will eventually do so. The brief, three-point agreement did not specify if the parties had made progress on other outstanding issues, but it suggested that they would be addressed in an extended legislative session and during the drafting of a new constitution.
“We are firmly committed to consensus and cooperation to take the peace process to a logical conclusion and to immediately complete the remaining tasks of the peace process and to accomplish the historic responsibility of writing a new constitution,” the agreement read, according to an unofficial translation.
Bishnu Rijal, press adviser to the prime minister, praised the deal. “It is a breakthrough,” Mr. Rijal said. “It has opened the door for consensus and to end the current political deadlock.”
Nepal is enduring a rocky transition from feudal monarchy to secular democratic republic. Friday was supposed to culminate the peace process that began roughly four years ago when Maoists agreed to end a 10-year guerrilla war. The country has operated under an interim constitution, and Friday was the deadline for drafting a permanent one.
But the Maoists, now a political party, and other leading political parties have been sparring for months over a range of issues, including the fate of the more than 19,000 former Maoist soldiers living in camps monitored by the United Nations. Rival political parties had also questioned whether Maoists were truly committed to democratic principles like separation of powers.
Meanwhile, Maoists had called general strikes as part of their campaign to force the prime minister to resign. In 2008, Maoists had won a plurality of seats in the Constituent Assembly and formed a government, only to step down after nine months in a political dispute. They have demanded that they be allowed to form a “national consensus” government to oversee the drafting of the constitution.
Narayan Kaji Shrestha, a Maoist vice chairman, called the agreement a positive development. “The prime minister has committed to resign, which we have long been demanding,” he said. “Our demands have been addressed to some extent, though the prime minister did not resign today.”
Nepal has faced a political challenge unlike few other countries. The new constitution is expected to restructure the national government drastically; create, for the first time, a federalist system of states; codify the relationship between the branches of government; and expand the list of official languages.
Pinned between India and China, the world’s fastest growing major economies, Nepal needs political stability so that it can capitalize on its strategic location and jump-start its mediocre economic growth. India and China, both desirous of stability in Nepal, have been closely watching developments, with the Maoists accusing India of exerting too much influence.
Kiran Chapagain reported from Katmandu, and Jim Yardley from New Delhi.