Nepal on Thursday hit another roadblock on its turbulent path to write a new statute,
as the Supreme Court stayed a Maoist-led government’s move to seek another extension to the Constituent Assembly just three days before its term expires.
The Supreme Court’s order blocking a further three months of extension to the constitution drafting authority created fresh political uncertainty in the country that has struggled for the last four years to conclude its 2006 peace process.
The apex court’s ruling effectively leaves the political parties with 72 hours to iron out their differences and promulgate a constitution, failing which fresh elections will have to be held.
The stay order came even as Deputy Prime Minister Krishna Sitaula walked out of the government, in protest against the cabinet’s controversial move that violated an earlier apex court order.
The Supreme Court issued an interim order against the Baburam Bhattarai government’s move to seek a three months extension to complete the writing of the Constitution, court officials said.
The order was issued by a single bench of Chief Justice Khil Raj Regmi in response to three different writ and contempt petitions filed a day earlier seeking the apex court’s intervention on the issue.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister, Bhattarai called an emergency meeting of the cabinet to take stalk of the situation and chalk out future course of action following the court’s stay order.
The cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Bhattarai on Tuesday had decided to seek an extension of the CA tenure by another three months after it expires on Sunday as it was unlikely that the Constitution would be promulgated within that deadline.
The Constituent Assembly (CA) was elected in April 2008 for an interim period of two years to draft the Constitution. However, its term has been extended four times in the last two years as the political parties have failed to resolve their issues.
In November last year when the government sought a fourth extension, the apex court had issued a directive that gave the the CA a ‘last chance’ to extend the assembly’s term till May 27.
Given the fact that the talks between political parties are mired in serious differences over constitutional issues, the court’s stay on a further extension might force a fresh election of the Constituent Assembly.
The situation leaves the Bhattarai government with two options – either to draft a constitution within the next 72 hours by forging consensus among all parties or to go for resh election of the Constituent Assembly, pti reported quoting political analysts as saying.
Major ruling partners Nepali Congress and CPN-UML have already opposed the extensions beyond the May 27 deadline.
Nepali Congress leader Bimalendra Nidhi suggested there was still a possibility of promulgating a draft within the deadline if all political parties forge an agreement to incorporate all the resolved issues and hand over the task of naming and delineating federal states to the Parliament based on federal and democratic principles later.
Federal structure is the main issue on which political parties are yet to arrive at a consensus.
Nidhi said the Constituent Assembly could be transformed into the Parliament after May 27.
General Secretary of CPN-United, Sunil Manandhar, also argued in favour of drafting a brief constitution to avoid a political crisis.
Meanwhile, President Ram Baran Yadav told a group of senior lawyers at Rastrapati Bhawan that he was in favour of meeting the stipulated deadline.
‘I will always abide by the Constitution and it is my concern that a democratic constitution should be promulgated within the stipulated time frame, which is also the aspiration of the people,’ he said.
Nepal’s political process has descended into feuding, of a dismally familiar sort, at a particularly sensitive time. In 2006 the country ended ten years of civil war between the army and a Maoist insurgency, starting a peace process based on accommodation between the existing political parties and the former rebels.
In 2008 there were elections to a Constituent Assembly that was to draft a new, democratic constitution.
The assembly’s first act was to abolish the monarchy that had become a common foe of both the Maoists and the other parties. They have been able to agree on very little since.
The comprehensive peace agreement struck in 2006 envisaged an all-party government until the new constitution was complete.
Instead there have been four prime ministers from three different parties since 2008, in a series of majority-coalition governments.
While in opposition, each party has been willing to boycott and obstruct the process at every step. All sides’ failures to abide by commitments have left the peace agreement threadbare.
The new constitution has yet to be drafted.
The mandate of the Constituent Assembly, which also functions as an interim legislature, has been extended.
The latest extension expires on May 27 and will require a new deal between the party leaders if the country is not to be left without an elected assembly.