Brawl in Nepal Parliament as Clock Ticks on New Constitution

By Gopal Sharma 21 January 2015

KATHMANDU — At least three security marshals were injured in a brawl that broke out in Nepal’s parliament early on Tuesday, with opposition legislators climbing on their chairs and throwing microphones and shoes in a heated debate over the Himalayan nation’s new constitution.

Former Maoist rebel lawmakers stormed the parliament’s chambers during the late-night session in an attempt to prevent the ruling coalition from pushing ahead with a vote to settle several disputed points in the new constitution and have a draft of the document ready by their soft deadline on Thursday.

“This is their ploy not to let the constitution be prepared in time at any cost,” Information and Communication Minister Minendra Rijal told reporters.

A new constitution is widely seen as crucial to ending the instability that has plagued Nepal since the end of a Maoist-led civil war in 2006 and settling the republic, nestled between regional powers India and China that jostle to woo a new geopolitical ally.

But it has been thwarted by differences among political parties over how to divide the country into federal states.

The opposition, which includes the Maoists as well as a string of small regional parties, wants to create ten states and name them after different ethnic and marginalized groups.

The ruling centre-left alliance says Nepal, a country roughly the size of Greece with an economy dependent on aid and tourism, does not have enough resources to support several states, and says the creation of federal units along ethnic lines could spark communal tensions.

The government, which commands a parliamentary majority, has said it will go ahead with a vote on the disputed issues if opposition parties fail to agree on the sticking points.

In protest, the Maoist-led opposition called for a nationwide shutdown of schools, colleges, factories, businesses and public transport on Tuesday.

Police detained 30 people across the country for stoning vehicles and for arson.

Police said one Maoist lawmaker was injured when protesters clashed with police during the strike in Kathmandu.

A previous parliament missed several deadlines for the constitution before being dissolved in May 2012 because of deep divisions over the formation of the proposed federal states.

A second assembly was elected the following year, and political parties vowed to complete the task of writing the charter on Jan. 22.

Later on Tuesday, after the parliamentary session resumed, opposition legislators again forced the house to adjourn until Wednesday. There were no further injuries.