Nepal’s deputy prime minister has announced his resignation as efforts to draw up a new constitution flounder. A government proposal to extend a deadline has met with resistance.
"I am no longer in the cabinet from today," Krishna Sitaula said on Thursday. "It is up to the party to decide whether to stay in the government but there is no relevance in me staying in the government," he told reporters.
His move comes after he and the government decided to ask lawmakers to extend the Constituent Assembly for a fifth time.
Three political parties agreed to the measure and registered a bill in the assembly to seek an extension after the Cabinet met for an emergency meeting.
"We are formally registering a proposal in the parliament today seeking a three month extension of the term of the Constituent Assembly," Narayankaji Shrestha, the other deputy prime minister of Nepal had told reporters on Tuesday.
"We filed the proposal to avert a major crisis in the country. We only have a few days left, and if there is no constitution and the assembly expires, there will be chaos in the country," Krishna Sitaula had explained.
Politicians said they needed more time to agree on the boundaries and names of new states in a new federal structure to be enshrined in the new constitution for the Himalayan republic.
Against a Supreme Court ruling
However, the proposal went against a Supreme Court ruling prohibiting any more extensions of Nepal's Constituent Assembly, which was elected in 2008 with a two-year tenure.
The Nepali Congress Party and the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist), the country's second and third largest parties, which joined the Maoist-led government this month, criticized the decision.
Madhav Kumar Nepal from the Communist Party demanded that Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai resign.
"He took such a major decision without even consulting his main coalition partners," he said. "He has now lost our trust and no longer deserves to be in office."
The Speaker of Parliament Subash Nemwang was also surprised by the decision. "We have no other choice but to promulgate the new constitution by the deadline," he said.
The new constitution is seen to be crucial to help bring an end to the instability that has plagued the Himalayan nation since the end of the Maoist insurgency that led to the overthrow of the monarchy in 2006.
Strikes and protests are frequent in Nepal which remains instable
However, it has proved difficult for the parties to come to an agreement. For this reason, the Supreme Court ruled last December that there could not be any more extensions and that a fresh election should be conducted after the deadline expired on May 27.
Protests across the country
Nepal boasts over 100 ethnic groups
Earlier this week, transport, schools and markets were shut down across the impoverished country as ethnic and indigenous groups protested and called for their rights to be enshrined in the new constitution. The small country has about 100 ethnic groups and many want federal states to be based on ethnic lines.
Some of the protests turned violent. Some journalists were also attacked in districts and charged with not providing coverage of ethnic issues.
Ram Chandra Paudel from the Nepali Congress said it would upset social harmony to create states long ethnic lines in a country that is dependent on aid and tourism. "We are trying hard to avoid further trouble and reach a consensus," he told the news agency Reuters.
Some analysts said that the government had no choice but to extend the Constituent Assembly. "Under the complex political situation in the country it is better to extend its life for a period of three months instead of killing it without producing the constitution," Lokraj Baral from the Nepal Centre for Strategic Studies told the news agency Reuters.
If there is no new constitution or agreement by Sunday, parliament will be disbanded. Observers fear this could create a power vacuum.
act/mg (AFP, dpa, Reuters, AP)