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Nepal’s president ‘concerned’ over power vacuum

KATHMANDU (APF): Nepal’s president voiced concern on Monday as the country faced a six-month power vacuum and fresh elections after parliament missed a midnight deadline to agree a new constitution.

Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai announced 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.

Lawmakers failed again to break years of deadlock on the nation’s new federal structure which is intended to bring stability to the impoverished Himalayan country and unite its more than 100 ethnic minorities.

“The unexpected dissolution of the Constituent Assembly 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 was 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.

Bhattarai formed a national unity government two weeks ago, but his decision to call elections led to resignations Monday from the Unified Marxist Leninist (UML) members over claims the early polls would be unconstitutional.

The Nepali Congress representatives in the coalition had already resigned last week and the United Democratic Madhesi Front joined growing calls on Monday for the prime minister to step down.

The widespread hope in Nepal that followed the end of the civil war and the abolition of the unpopular monarchy has been replaced by a growing sense of anger which analysts warned could lead to violence.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, forcing many people to seek work overseas, and thousands of Nepalese have taken to the streets in recent weeks 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 the Republica daily describing the breakdown in talks as “the biggest blow to the cause of democracy”.

“In four years the Constituent Assembly’s term was extended four times, and each time Nepalis were told the political class was within touching distance of the constitution of the new federal republic,” it 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 told AFP 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 Constituent Assembly, 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.

Published Date: Monday, May 28th, 2012 | 12:48 AM

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