April 29, 2008

Article at Reuters

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New constitution a far cry for squabbling Nepal

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - The writing of Nepal’s new constitution is being clouded by a political squabble for power, underlining the enormous difficulties in store when it comes to framing the all-important document.

The April 10 election to form a special 601-member assembly crowned a peace deal with the Maoists rebels who have insisted on abolishing Nepal’s monarchy and writing a new constitution.

That constitution is to be written by the special assembly within a two-year deadline, extendable by another six months.

But, going by the bitter struggle over the formation of a new government, analysts say it is difficult to imagine the new lawmakers meeting the deadline.

Nepal’s attorney-general Yagya Murti Banjade says it would be impossible to have the new constitution in place within two years if the draft was not ready in a year’s time.

“The constitution cannot be drafted within two years if we keep fighting on the pretext of forming a new government,” he told reporters at the weekend. “It is inappropriate to fight to grasp power.”

But if Nepal’s political history is anything to go by, a long-drawn-out squabble for power is inevitable.

In an election that brought the Maoist rebels into electoral politics, voters dumped the traditionally strong parties -- a mandate that many people see as an endorsement of the former guerrillas as a principal agent for change.

But no party has the numbers to form the government.

The Maoists form the single largest party and say they should be allowed to take power.

But Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s Nepali Congress is reluctant, saying it should not matter who runs the government, and instead, all parties should get on with the agenda of abolishing the monarchy and writing the constitution.

Analysts say the process of writing the constitution, once the political parties get down to it, will be a Herculean task.

“Think, 601 members from 25 political parties with severe differences trying to forge a consensus on how this country will be run,” said magazine editor and political analyst Yubaraj Ghimire. “It is very unlikely they will meet the deadline.”

The new constitution will have to absorb divergent views and arrive at a broad consensus on such tricky issues as the nature of the state and the government, the jurisdiction of federal states, administrative set-up and laws.

“Undoubtedly, the political parties should concentrate on drawing up the constitution as soon as possible,” said an editorial in the Himalayan Times. “They must remain loyal to their commitments to the people.”

Analysts say the real challenge would be how much the Maoists compromise to uphold the fundamental spirit of democracy.

There are some indications the Maoists want to bulldoze their way through on issues of vital importance. They have said the first meeting of the special assembly will abolish the monarchy, without referring to any debate or voting on the issue.

There is also the danger of them trying to bring the judiciary under the executive’s control.

Maoists have said there are “pro-monarchy elements” in the judiciary and that the judiciary needed to be made pro-people. They have not explained how.

“The whole thing can be derailed if the Maoists subvert the democratic process of debate and vote on every major issue,” Ghimire said.

“By subverting the democratic process you can not institutionalize democracy.”