Nepal's long-delayed Parliament set for first meeting

KATHMANDU (AFP) - Nepalese lawmakers begin a new push on Wednesday, Jan 22, 2014, to finally agree on a Constitution that can deliver stability to the Himalayan nation, still divided by the legacy of a decade-long civil war.

A newly-elected Constituent Assembly will convene in Kathmandu, nearly a month after the former ruling Maoist party dropped a boycott threat, raising hopes of breaking a prolonged deadlock.

However a failure by the two other major parties - the Nepali Congress and the Unified Marxist-Leninist (UML) - to agree yet on a coalition government has dampened some of that hope and underlined the difficulties of reaching a consensus.

The Congress, which won most seats in the Nov 19 election, is still expected to form the next government - possibly in a coalition with the UML, which placed second.

Nepal has been in political limbo for nearly two years, since the dissolution of the country's first Constituent Assembly.

The Maoists came to power in 2008 after a landslide election victory, two years after signing a deal to end a decade-long insurgency which also saw King Gyanendra step down.

But the ensuing four years were marked by a series of short-term coalition governments, mainly led by the Maoists, and the first assembly broke up amid rancour in May 2012.

The Maoists' humiliating loss in November's polls and initial threat to boycott the new assembly over electoral fraud claims raised fears that the new body, which also acts as a Parliament, would be beset with similar woes.

But analysts say all the main parties know they cannot afford to allow their disagreements over the terms of the Constitution to go on much longer.

"The parties will have to work things out, they have no other option, no other way out," Mr Lokraj Baral, executive chairman of Kathmandu's Nepal Centre for Contemporary Studies, told AFP.

The main differences between the parties on the Constitution revolve around state boundaries and the powers of the president.

Efforts to agree on a new coalition have also snagged over disagreements about the carve-up of key posts and ministries.

Mr Baral said none of the disagreements should be so serious as to trigger another drawn-out impasse.

"This sort of squabbling is to be expected, it should not be taken too seriously," he said. "Of course, it will create unnecessary delays but the politicians know they need to settle down and get to work soon."

Annual gross domestic product growth slid to 4.6 per cent last year while inflation is hovering around 10 per cent, forcing hundreds of thousands of Nepalis to migrate overseas for jobs.

While the king was widely reviled by the time he was forced to relinquish his crown, the country's political and economic woes have fuelled nostalgia for the monarchy among some voters.

A party campaigning for the return of the monarchy, the Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal, is now the fourth largest in parliament, but analysts say its rivals are all determined that it remains on the fringes.

"The Nepali Congress, UML and Maoists are all wary about the possibility of a right-wing, royalist force raising its head," said Mr Sudheer Sharma, chief editor of the best-selling Kantipur daily.

"So, they would move ahead (and draft a Constitution) in order to stop this from happening," Mr Sharma told AFP.

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