House dissolved; Cabinet announces fresh elections for November 22

Four years after being elected, Nepal's Constituent Assembly (CA) got dissolved on Sunday night without delivering a statute.

Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai's Cabinet, despite opposition from a major ruling partner, decided to hold fresh elections on November 22 for a new CA.

The day was marked by protests on the streets and negotiations at the top. Protesters of all orientations — hill upper castes, Janjati (ethnic communities), Madhesis — surrounded the CA building in the capital, pressing their demands; lawmakers, too, chanted slogans inside the building, urging the political leadership to deliver a statute.

Consultations among the Maoists, the Nepali Congress (NC), the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist) and the Madhesi front ended without an agreement late afternoon. The deal-breaker was the contentious issue of federalism. The Maoist-Madhesi combine sought a firm commitment that the 10- state model or the 14-state model, recommended by the constitutional commission and committee respectively, would be guaranteed as the basis for federal restructuring. The Janjati MP caucus also agreed to have multiple names — one ethnic and one neutral — in the hill provinces, a key demand of the NC and the UML.

But the NC and the UML favoured promulgating the Constitution with an in-principle commitment to federalism, while leaving the contentious issues such as numbers, names and boundaries of the states to a transformed legislative-parliament.

Sources say the parties then decided that the chances of a constitution were “nil” and began discussing other “appropriate arrangements” in the chamber of the CA Chairman to avert a crisis. The first option discussed was elections for a new assembly, while the second was declaring an emergency to extend the term of the House. The key ruling allies, the Maoists and the Madhesis, chose the first option.

A Cabinet meeting held at night formally decided to hold polls for a CA. This was, however, opposed by the UML. Its general secretary and Deputy Prime Minister Ishwor Pokharel walked out of the meeting. “This is unconstitutional, neither is it based on political consensus,” he said.

Madhesi leader Laxman Lal Karna told reporters: “In the afternoon, the NC and the UML had said there was no chance of a deal. Let us go for polls. We have done the democratic thing.”

The Prime Minister was scheduled to address the nation late on Sunday night to explain the situation.

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