Nepal’s opposition parties have protested both inside parliament and on the streets against governing coalition plans to
push through a draft of a new constitution, the latest upheaval to roil the Himalayan nation which has been without a charter for the last six years.
The ruling coalition, which makes up more than two-thirds of the 605-member Constituent Assembly, said it is determined to begin voting on the new constitution, citing Thursday’s deadline.
“We have tried many times to reach a consensus, but have not been able to do so. In democracy we have to vote,” said Jhalnath Khanal of Communist Party of Nepal Unified Marxist Leninist, a coalition member.
A constitution was supposed to have been written by the last Constituent Assembly, which was elected in 2008 following the end of a 10-year Maoist insurgency and the overthrow of the centuries-old monarchy.
But the assembly was riven by infighting and never finished its work. The current assembly was chosen in 2013, but has faced the same problem.
Protests have been banned in the assembly hall area and police warned that violators would be arrested.
The opposition has vowed to block the governing coalition’s plan to push through the new constitution, saying it should be done only with a consensus of all the parties.
The opposition has also imposed a general strike, shutting down schools, transport, markets, and some elements have even set fire to several vehicles.
The ruling coalition makes up more than two-thirds of the 605-member assembly, enough to get the draft approved. However, the opposition has not allowed the assembly to meet by chanting slogans in the assembly hall.
The constitution was intended to conclude a peace process begun in 2006 when Maoist fighters entered politics, ending a decade-long insurgency that left an estimated 16,000 people dead.
Six prime ministers and two elections later, discord primarily between the opposition Maoists and ruling parties has intensified, paralysing the drafting process.
But it is not just Maoist opposition figures protesting the ruling coalition, according to Al Jazeera’s correspondent Subina Shrestha.
“There is intense polarisation between the parties. Many other parties and groups, including right-wing Hindu nationalist groups, women’s groups and others have said that they would protest any attempt to push through a vote on the proposed constitution,” Shrestha said from Kathmandu.
A key sticking point concerns internal borders, with the opposition pushing for provinces to be created along lines that could favour historically marginalised communities.
“Many parties and identity-based groups have argued for a stricter identity-based federalism, not just the Maoists, which has framed the debate more between the ‘establishment’ and opposition forces with more progressive agendas,” Shrestha added.
Maoists “think of federalism as a way to give some kind of identity to these various groups”, our correspondent said.
Other parties have attacked this model, calling it too divisive and a threat to national unity.
Women’s groups on the other hand have independently protested against perceived negligence by the government to deal with sexual violence in the country, as well as a provision in the proposed constitution that both parents have to be Nepali for children to be Nepali, “which means kids born out of wedlock or abandoned would be stateless”, according to Shrestha.
A missed deadline will prolong instability in a country where one out of four people survive on less than $1.25 a day, according to World Bank data.
“A constitution achieved with only minimum consensus will have no scope of success,” Lok Raj Baral, executive chairman of the Nepal Centre for Contemporary Studies, told the Agence France-Presse news agency. “Both sides need to realise that a compromise formula is the only way out.”