Originally Published 2012-05-28 00:00:00 Published on May 28, 2012
In Nepal, with the dissolution of Constituent Assembly and legislature parliament, the Baburam Bhattarai government will continue under caretaker status. But a political confrontation is unavoidable in days ahead given the deep divisions among and within the political parties of Nepal.
Nepal: Another election for a new Constitution
In a most disappointing turn of events, the 601-Member Constituent Assembly of Nepal has failed to promulgate a new Constitution. With its term expiring on Sunday, the CA now stands dissolved following its failure to draft a Constitution even after four years of its formation.

Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai announced at midnight on Sunday a fresh election to the Constituent Assembly to be held on November 22, 2012, despite opposition from his coalition partners and from within his own party. The ministers representing the CPN-UML, Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) and other coalition partners walked out of the cabinet meeting, which took the decision to call for fresh polls. PM Bhattarai argued that the government was compelled to take the decision. "There was no alternative," he said in a televised address to the nation minutes before the CA’s term expired.

Issuing a joint statement, Nepali Congress parliamentary party leader Ram Chandra Paudel, CPN-UML Chairman Jhalanath Khanal, Madhesi People’s Rights Forum-Nepal Chairman Upendra Yadav and Rastriya Janashakti Party Co-Chairman Prakash Chandra Lohani opposed the decision. They said that they put all-out efforts to give continuity to the legislature-parliament by promulgating a Constitution based on the agreements reached so far and entrusting responsibility to the transitional parliament to complete the remaining tasks. They have accused the government of not listening to their concern that the fresh election cannot be announced without making some amendments to the interim constitution. The parties have accused the prime minister of trying to impose autocratic system by dissolving a most inclusively elected CA. They have demanded the PM’s resignation.

The UCPN (Maoist) dissident faction, led by senior vice-chairman Mohan Baidya, too objected to the government decision to go for fresh polls. Deputy Prime Minister and CPN-UML leader Ishwar Pokharel, Rastriya Prajatantra Party Minister Parshuram Khapung, Minister Chandradev Joshi of CPN (Samyukta) and Kumar Belbase of CPN-ML, among others, announced their objection to the Prime Minister’s proposal for election.

CPN-UML and Nepali Congress (NC) leaders also opposed the decision. UML leader and former Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal said his party and the NC have objected to the Prime Minister’s proposal to go for fresh elections. Nepal said the ministers from his party walked out from the cabinet meeting as the prime minister, according to him, tabled the proposal for election all of a sudden, without holding any discussion with other parties.

Prime Minister Bhattari decided to opt for the new polls after last-minute efforts to find consensus failed. The Prime Minister said he continued to assume the executive powers and his government will hold the election. He also said that the government decided to go for the fresh election because drafting a forward-looking new constitution upholding the aspirations of Dalits, Janjatis, Muslims and oppressed society was not possible before the end of the CA term.

With the end of the CA’s last extension, Nepali polity has once again entered a phase of uncertainty and deep polarization. There is now a complete breakdown of consensus among the major political players over important issues like state restructuring. The main contentious issue has been the basis of federalism. While the Maoists are supporting ethnic-based federalism with priority rights for ethnic groups and minorities, the NC and others want multi-identity based federalism.

The fact that the CA was dissolved without statute is a clear indication of deepening political crisis in Nepal. There is no consensus among the parties even on going for next polls.

Govt under pressure

Bhattarai’s government came under immense pressure from the Janajatis, Dalits and minority groups soon after the May 4 agreement which adopted an 11-province model. Some ethnic groups like Limbhuwan and Khumbuwan desire separate province for themselves even though those groups do not form majority in that particular area. In fact, no single group is in majority in a given area in Nepal. There are more than 103 ethnic groups. The nationwide strikes called by the Nepali Federation of Indigenous Nationalities (NEFIN) earlier this month had hit the country hard with even the capital city coming to a complete halt.

The government since May 4 also faced the wrath of the Brahmin-Chettri organisations that have been agitating for greater recognition in the new state. This group comprises nearly 38 per cent of the population but is being given no separate province. The government declared this group Aadivasis and accepted them to be one of the original inhabitants of Nepal.

Prime Minister Bhattarai came under severe criticism from the hardliners of his own party as well. The Nepali Congress walked out of the consensus government after 19 days of joining it as it opposed any compromise or renegotiation on the 11-province model. The NC came up later with 13-province model and the UML submitted 8 province models. Chairman Prachanda wants either 10 or 14 province model.

With the dissolution of CA and legislature parliament, the Baburam Bhattarai government will continue under caretaker status. But a political confrontation is unavoidable in days ahead given the deep divisions among and within the political parties of Nepal.

(The writer is an Associate Fellow with Observer Research Foundation)

The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.