Kathmandu: Nepal’s president voiced “serious concern” on Monday as the country faced a six-month-long power vacuum and fresh elections after the parliament missed a midnight deadline to agree to a new constitution.
Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai announced on late Sunday that the country’s parliament, elected in 2008 to write the constitution after a decade of civil war, would be disbanded ahead of November elections.
Consensus elusive: Nepal’s Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai (right) and Nepal’s President Ram Baran Yadhav during a function to observe Nepal’s Fifth Republic Day, in Kathmandu, on Monday. By AP Photo/Binod Joshi
Lawmakers again failed to break years of deadlock on the nation’s new federal structure which is meant to bring lasting stability to the impoverished Himalayan country and unite its more than 100 ethnic minorities.
“The unexpected dissolution of the constituent assembly (CA) constituted after a big struggle and sacrifice is a matter of serious concern and regret for all of us,” President Ram Baran Yadav said in a public address on Monday.
The constitution is intended to create a new secular, democratic republic following the abolition of Nepal’s centuries-old Hindu monarchy after Maoist rebels gave up arms and won the 2008 elections.
An estimated 16,000 people died in the 1996-2006 civil war.
The move to dissolve parliament leaves the nation with a deeply divided caretaker government which has no mandate and no chamber in place to pass laws and rubber-stamp decisions.
New members of the government resigned in protest on Monday and Bhattarai, a senior Maoist leader who formed a national unity coalition two weeks ago, faced a storm of criticism from political opponents, analysts and the media.
“After the CA failed to deliver the constitution, the prime minister should have resigned,” constitutional law expert Bipin Adhikari said.
“But even before that, he should have had an exit plan ready before the expiry of the term,” he added. “All he did is let the deadline for the CA pass and (the CA) dissolve.”
Members of the national unity government from the Unified Marxist Leninist party (UML) resigned on Monday in protest at the early polls which they also claimed would be unconstitutional.
The Nepali Congress representatives in the coalition had resigned last week and the United Democratic Madhesi Front joined growing calls on Monday for the prime minister to step down.
The Maoists were to make an announcement at a media conference later Monday on the measures they intended to take to restore stability ahead of the elections.
The widespread hope in Nepal that followed the end of the civil war and the abolition of the unpopular monarchy has been replaced by a growing sense of anger which analysts warned could lead to violence.
Political instability has stifled economic growth in the country, forcing many people to seek work overseas. In recent weeks, thousands of Nepalese have taken to the streets to protest at the lack of progress in their country.
Nepal’s leading newspapers carried excoriating editorials blaming the main party leaders for the crisis, with Republica, a daily newspaper in Nepal, describing the breakdown in talks as “the biggest blow to the cause of democracy”.
“In four years the CA’s term was extended four times, and each time Nepalis were told that the political class was within touching distance of the constitution of the new federal republic,” the newspaper said.
“We are sorry to say that in the final analysis, the political class has miserably failed to honour the people’s mandate.”
Political analyst Tilak Pathak said that the “human cost of an election is likely to be very high. Even if the election takes place, it will be very violent.”
He added, “The current government’s legitimacy will be questioned because after the dissolution of the CA, the government will be a caretaker one.”
The deadlock over the constitution pitted the Maoists, who dominate the assembly, against other parties.
The Maoists want the creation of up to 14 states named after ethnic groups, while their rivals say dividing Nepal along ethnic lines will fuel unrest.
Despite four extensions of the assembly’s mandate, it was unable to complete the far-reaching document, and the supreme court ruled that any further extensions would be illegal.