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Nepal to miss constitution deadline amid continuing confusion

 Nepali lawmakers were Wednesday set to miss a self-imposed deadline for promulgation of the country`s new constitution after the various political parties failed to reach a consensus on key issues eluding a resolution.

Kathmandu: Nepali lawmakers were Wednesday set to miss a self-imposed deadline for promulgation of the country`s new constitution after the various political parties failed to reach a consensus on key issues eluding a resolution.

Jan 22 was the deadline the lawmakers imposed upon themselves last year in the wake of the election to the second Constituent Assembly (CA) after the first CA -- elected for a two-year term -- failed in the Himalayan task from May 28, 2008 to May 28, 2012.

The second CA was elected in 2013 and at its first meeting Jan 21, 2014, it resolved to draft the country`s new constitution within a year -- a task which it has failed to perform due to an elusive consensus among the 30 political parties that find representation in the unicameral body.

The 601 lawmakers could not even start preparatory work during the year gone by with differences over process and procedure proving to be stumbling blocks.

Procedural wrangling apart, the parties have failed to forge much-needed consensus on contentious issues of the envisaged constitution which include issues relating to the federal structure, form of government, electoral system and the design of the judiciary.

Major political parties -- the ruling Nepali Congress and alliance partner CPN-UML as also the main opposition Unified CPN (Maoist) and a bagful of Madhesh-based parties -- have differing opinions over the issue of federalism and several cross-party talks have failed to yield any favourable result.

"What would be our reply tomorrow (Thursday) to the people who tasked us with framing a new constitution," CA chairman Subash Chandra Nembang asked during Wednesday`s meeting at the CA, which was again disrupted by opposition parties led by Unified CPN (Maoist).

The Constituent Assembly early Tuesday turned into a battleground after opposition parties disrupted an assembly meeting and attacked lawmakers from the ruling parties, resulting in injuries to a dozen security personnel.

Lawmakers from opposition parties, led by UCPN (Maoist), began shouting and vandalizing infrastructure when CA chairman Nembang asked Nepali Congress chief whip Chinkaji Shrestha to form a panel to initiate a voting process for the settlement of contentious issues.

With no new constitution within sight, a blame game has now broken out.

At a press conference Wednesday, Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, also known as Prachanda, accused Prime Minister Sushil Koirala of playing a "villainous" role in spoiling the whole process.

However, former prime minister and senior UML leader Jhala Nath Khanal blamed the Maoists and their leadership for taking hostage the constitution-framing process.

Political analysts here said it was difficult to predict the situation after Jan 22 and they were not sure whether the confrontation will continue or there would be a compromise after that.

The Maoists and their allies want the deadline to pass without any result so that they can blame the ruling Nepali Congress and UML for the failure of the constitution-drafting process.

Framing of the country`s new constitution was a key demand put forth by the CPN-Maoist when it decided to join mainstream politics in 2006 after a ten-year-long armed conflict with the avowed aim of overthrowing the Nepali monarchy and establishing a `People`s Republic`.

Late Tuesday, India`s Ministry of External Affairs issued a statement calling on Nepali parties to work together in the final stages of the peace process in drawing up a Constitution that honours past agreements and understandings as well as the mandate of the CA elections.

The United Nations, in a statement here, said the constitution is meant to be a foundational document that will guide the country`s course for the foreseeable future.

"To be implemented peacefully and offer stability, it will require the widest support from the Nepali people. The international community calls upon the parties to redouble their efforts to secure an inclusive constitution," said a statement issued by the UN Office, Kathmandu.