Nepal parliament chaos as constitution deadline passes

Constitution assembly members shout during the meeting at the parliament on the final day to draft the new constitution in Kathmandu, Nepal, on Jan 22, 2015. -- PHOTO: EPA
Constitution assembly members shout during the meeting at the parliament on the final day to draft the new constitution in Kathmandu, Nepal, on Jan 22, 2015. -- PHOTO: EPA

KATHMANDU (AFP) - Protests by Nepal's opposition lawmakers threw parliament into chaos Friday after emergency talks failed to secure agreement on a new national constitution before a midnight deadline expired.

As parliament opened, opposition lawmakers led by former Maoist rebels shouted slogans and stormed into the well of the main chamber, refusing to allow ruling party politicians to propose a vote on disputed issues in the charter.

"Announce a constitution based on consensus," lawmakers chanted.

Nepal's parties have spent years locked in a stalemate over the charter while political power plays have obstructed efforts to reach an agreement, analysts say.

As political rifts have widened, with lawmakers this week hurling chairs and scuffling in parliament, the impoverished Himalayan nation has sunk deeper into paralysis and anger has spilled over on to the streets.

Parliament Speaker Subhash Nembang told opposition lawmakers Friday to end their protests and urged them to hammer out an agreement or be prepared for a vote, before adjourning the assembly until Sunday.

"People want answers from us, they are watching us and they are waiting," Mr Nembang said.

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

But six prime ministers and two elections later, political infighting has crippled efforts to resolve the deadlock, analysts say.

"Individual leaders are cynically holding the constitution hostage to their petty interests... they are basically jockeying for future positions as PM and president while negotiating our future," said Kunda Dixit, editor of the Nepali Times weekly.

"Their ambitions have overwhelmed any push for an agreement... and they are unable to compromise because of a 'winner takes all' attitude," Mr Dixit 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.

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.

A missed deadline will prolong instability and deliver yet another blow to an economy which has seen annual GDP growth plummet from 6.1 percent in 2008 to 3.6 percent in 2013, according to World Bank data.

"How will the country progress like this?" said Pradeep Jung Pandey, president of the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

"If there is no new constitution and all we will have are protests and instability, how can anyone make new investments or expand existing ones?" Mr Pandey told AFP.