Nepal Plunges into Turmoil as Politicians Scuffle over Constitution

By Gopal Sharma 23 January 2015

KATHMANDU — Nepal plunged deeper into crisis on Friday after feuding politicians, throwing microphones and shoes, failed to meet a deadline to table a new constitution, seen as a key step to stability in the Himalayan buffer state wedged between Asian powers China and India.

Opposition party lawmakers stormed the well of parliament late on Thursday to prevent the ruling coalition from pushing ahead with a vote to salvage the draft of a charter marred by political rivalries.

“Political leaders must explain to people why they failed to fulfil their commitment,” said Subas Nemwang, chairman of the Constituent Assembly tasked with preparing the charter.

Landlocked Nepal has been in political limbo since 2008, when it’s 239-year-old monarchy was abolished. An interim constitution was put in place a year earlier at the end of a civil war fought by Maoist rebels.

Bitter disagreements over how to carve out new provinces have rendered the government unable to move forward, with consecutive parliaments missing deadlines to present a new constitution, stoking further insecurity in a nation traumatized by its bloody past.

Protesters set dozens of vehicles on fire on Thursday as the Maoist-led opposition called for a general strike to pressure the government into meeting their demands. On the same day, opposition lawmakers stormed parliament’s main chamber to disrupt the session, throwing microphones and shoes and injuring at least three security officers in the fray.

It could take months before another attempt is made to agree on the charter, Nemwang said, although parliament was due to meet again on Friday.

The constitution is an integral part of the 2006 peace deal that ended an insurgency which caused nearly 18,000 deaths.

The Maoists and regional parties want to create ten states in the mostly mountainous country and name them after different ethnic groups to empower them.

But the members of the ruling alliance fear Nepal, whose economy is dependant on aid and tourism, cannot afford to fund that many administrations, and say affiliating states with ethnic groups could fuel communal tensions.

The United Nations has called on Nepal’s politicians to rise above narrow interests to reach an agreement.

Many Nepalis say politicians are insensitive to the economic paralysis in part caused by their rifts.

“Political leaders don’t have any interest other than making money for themselves,” said Kale Sarki, a cobbler in Kathmandu.

“I don’t care about the constitution. With or without it I must continue to work here to support my family.”