Final push for Nepal constitution as deadline looms

NEPAL’S leaders will meet Thursday in a last-ditch effort to agree on a constitution before a midnight deadline, as public frustration over the slow pace of progress deepens.

Lawmakers are expected to miss the deadline as many key issues are still in dispute, further aggravating public disillusionment with the political process.

Analysts say the prolonged paralysis raises the risk of unrest in the impoverished Himalayan nation, where lawmakers this week threw chairs and scuffled with each other as tempers frayed.

The constitution was intended to conclude a peace process begun in 2006 when Maoist guerrillas entered parliamentary politics, ending a decade-long conflict with government troops that left an estimated 16,000 people dead.

But six prime ministers and two elections later, discord between the opposition Maoists and ruling parties has intensified, paralysing the drafting process.

“We have waited so many years, we are tired of these leaders,” said Kathmandu-based trader Niraj Shrestha, reflecting the growing apathy among Nepalis.

“If our lawmakers want to, they can draft the constitution in 24 hours, but I don’t think even another 24 years will make a difference to their way of functioning,” the 39-year-old told AFP.

A key sticking point concerns internal borders, with the opposition pushing for provinces to be created along lines that could favour historically marginalised communities.

Other parties have attacked this model, calling it too divisive and a threat to national unity.

Anger has spilled over to the streets, with pressure groups staging frequent protests across the country.

A missed deadline will prolong instability and hurt growth prospects in a country where one out of four people survive on less than $1.25 a day, according to World Bank data.

The ruling parties and their allies have the two-thirds parliamentary majority they need to approve a constitution without Maoist support.

But the former insurgents have warned of further conflict if they fail to take opposition views into account.

Lawmaker Ramesh Lekhak of the ruling Nepali Congress told AFP his party intended to push on with a proposal for a vote Thursday.

But analysts say such measures would alienate marginalised communities and spell disaster for the country.

“A constitution achieved with only minimum consensus will have no scope of success,” said Lok Raj Baral, executive chairman of the Nepal Centre for Contemporary Studies.

“Both sides need to realise that a compromise formula is the only way out,” Baral told AFP.

As the deadline approached, senior Maoist leader Narayan Kaji Shrestha told AFP he saw almost no chance of an immediate agreement.

“We were hoping to at least complete a draft constitution but even that hasn’t happened,” Shrestha said.

“We cannot wait three more years, the people won’t forgive us,” he said.

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