Leaders from across Nepal’s political divide have pledged to draw up a constitution for the Himalayan nation within a year as the new parliament convened for the first time.
More than two months after an election which was marred by fraud accusations from the defeated Maoist party, the assembly tasked with agreeing on the constitution held its first meeting in Kathmandu on Wednesday.
While there were threats from the Maoists of street protests if they end up feeling marginalised in the constituent assembly, they did join the other parties in promising to reach an agreement within the next 12 months.
There should be no doubt that we will be able to complete the new constitution within one year and at the same time we want to assure that we will soon agree on a coalition government
“There should be no doubt that we will be able to complete the new constitution within one year and at the same time we want to assure that we will soon agree on a coalition government,” said Sushil Koirala, leader of the Nepali Congress party.
Koirala’s party has the most seats but is short of a majority. The assembly is likely to choose him as the next prime minister.
His words were echoed by Baburam Bhattarai, a former Maoist prime minister who is also a member of the new 601-member assembly.
“On the occasion of the first meeting of another constituent assembly today… let us commit to deliver a progressive constitution within a year,” he said on Twitter.
The pledges lent an air of optimism to the new assembly – which will also double up as a parliament – nearly two years after lawmakers last met.
The Maoists only reluctantly agreed to take part in the assembly last month after initially threatening to boycott it over accusations of vote-rigging in the November 19 polls.
They were soundly beaten by both the Congress and the Unified Marxist-Leninist (UML) parties, which are still locked in negotiations over forming a new coalition government.
The former rebels won Nepal’s first post-war elections in 2008 by a landslide, two years after signing an agreement to end a 10-year uprising against the monarchy. As part of the deal, King Gyanendra agreed to stand 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.
Koirala said his party would strive to reach a consensus but warned that a parliamentary minority would not be allowed to scupper an agreement.
Hours before the meeting, a senior member of the Maoists warned that his party’s resolve should not be underestimated despite its reduced presence in the assembly.
“We will have to be vigilant and may resort to street protests to ensure that our agendas are addressed by the constituent assembly,” Ganesh Man Pun told AFP.
In a scene underlining the divisions within the war-torn nation, about three dozen members of a Maoist splinter group, which boycotted the November election, held a sit-in protest, waving black flags outside the assembly.
“If the government tries to break [our protest], it will have to take the responsibility for the violence that might follow”, Dev Gurung, a leader of the faction, told AFP.
Nepal’s political woes have hampered efforts to fire up growth in a nation which borders both India and China and is one of the poorest in Asia.