For the first time since elections to the 2008 Constituent Assembly (CA), Nepal's major parties have agreed to form a national unity government to smoothen the path toward a new Constitution. To facilitate this, the entire Cabinet consisting of Maoist and Madhesi Ministers — except Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai — resigned en masse late on Thursday night.

In accordance with a five-point agreement between major parties, the unity government will first be led by the incumbent Premier, and Maoist party vice-chairman, Dr. Bhattarai. Besides the Maoists, it will include representatives of the Nepali Congress (NC), Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist) and the United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF). Dr. Bhattarai will resign and leadership will be handed over to the Nepali Congress (NC) before Constitution promulgation, which is to happen before May 27 when the CA's term expires. The NC -led government will hold fresh elections according to the new constitutional design within a year.

Consensus on power sharing had been elusive for the past four years as NC had refused to join a Maoist-led government as long as the peace process remained incomplete. With the handover of Maoist army cantonments to the Nepal Army, and integration of the former combatants reaching an “irreversible” stage, the ground was prepared for a political consensus. Political sources said that with the agreement on unity government, the efforts by “spoilers” — who had been floating the idea of filing a no-confidence motion against the government in order to derail the constitutional process — had been foiled.

There had been a debate between Maoists and NC on the exact timing of handover of government leadership. While Dr. Bhattarai was keen to transfer leadership after promulgating the Constitution, NC insisted that a government they led should promulgate the statute. An informal understanding is said to have been reached wherein the Dr. Bhattarai-led government will “finalise” the Constitution, while the NC-led government will take office at the time of promulgation.

Another issue that delayed the agreement on Thursday was the reluctance of Ministers from the Madhesi front to resign, a pre-requisite to include other parties.

Sources told The Hindu they finally relented after being reassured that influential leaders could retain major portfolios in the new unity Cabinet.

The five-point pact also says that contentious issues of Constitution drafting, in particular State restructuring and form of government, is to be resolved within the next three days. While parties have unofficially agreed to adopt a mixed form of government, with a directly-elected Prime Minister and a strong Parliament which elects the Prime Minister, the debate on federal structure has been more contentious, with multiple groups — political and ethnic — putting forward conflicting demands about the number of States, names to be given, as well as boundaries.

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