Logjam in Nepal

Never has Nepal’s future seemed as uncertain or bleak as it does today. With just a day to go for the term of the Constituent Assembly (CA) to expire and no constitution in sight, the crisis has assumed critical proportions. Without an extension of the CA or a new constitution, the country will have no legal framework or government after May 28. One would think that the enormity of the crisis that confronts the country would push Nepal’s ever squabbling politicians to bury the hatchet and work for a compromise that would end the political and constitutional stalemate. However, they seem keener on using the tense situation to wring out concessions from each other. Prime minister Jhalanath Khanal who is supported by the Maoists is seeking to get the CA’s term extended. But the opposition Nepali Congress is doing its utmost to block the effort. It is demanding the resignation of the government as a precondition for its support for extension of the CA’s term.

Those who are opposed to the CA’s term being extended are arguing that if it hasn’t been able to get a draft done over the past three years, it is unlikely to do so in another few months. Underlying their opposition however is fear that an extension of the CA benefits the Maoists as they control key ministries in the government. But dissolving the CA without a clear idea of what comes next and how it will be achieved will put Nepal in a dire situation. Lurking in the shadows are the royalists who are calling for a revival of the 1991 constitution, which will enable the return of constitutional monarchy to Nepal.

Elections to vote in a new CA, presidential intervention backed by the army, a return to confrontation with the Maoists, a constitutional vacuum — these are among several options before Nepal today. Compared with these, an extension of the CA’s term seems the most benign. The CA is an elected body. It must be allowed to complete the task it was voted in to perform. It is true it has failed miserably in taking Nepal’s peace process to the next stage. But going in for polls at this juncture or leaving a void for violence to fill will only deepen Nepal’s multiple woes.

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