A day after major parties reached a tentative agreement to amend the interim Constitution and extend the term of the Constituent Assembly (CA), political uncertainty has once again gripped Nepal. Two major parties in government — the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist) — has opposed any extension of the CA and demanded Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai's immediate resignation. The term of the CA is set to expire on May 27.
Soon after the government tabled an amendment Bill in the Legislature-Parliament on Tuesday night, Nepali Congress president Sushil Koirala told reporters that he did not favour an extension. NC leaders were present at the all-party meeting which had endorsed the pact to initiate the process to extend the CA, and party general secretary and Deputy Prime Minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula had signed the Bill.
But on Wednesday, at a party central committee meeting, a majority of the 20 members who spoke are understood to have opposed the extension and demanded that the NC should withdraw from the national unity government. Parliamentary party leader Ram Chandra Poudel said, “The PM must resign immediately, and as per past agreement, NC should lead the next unity government. The issues of State restructuring can be decided by the transformed Parliament which will continue to exist beyond May 27.”
The UML too demanded the Prime Minister's immediate resignation. Secretary Shanker Pokharel told reporters, “Our party meeting discussed yesterday's proposal to extend the CA's term, and our clear position is that the Constitution must be promulgated by the CA within the May 27th term. This would also be constitutional in accordance with the SC verdict.”
The Supreme Court has ruled that the current extension would be the last one, and failing promulgation of the Constitution, the country should head for fresh elections or a referendum. Four writs were filed in the SC on Wednesday, challenging the government's amendment proposal on grounds of it being unconstitutional and in contempt of court.
But the Maoists and the United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF) have rejected the call for the Prime Minister's resignation, and said an extension was essential since the Constitution cannot be written in the remaining five days. Deputy Prime Minister Narayan Kaji Shrestha accused the NC and UML of not being willing to promulgate the Constitution, and said the Prime Minister will not quit. Madhesi leader and Health Minister Rajendra Mahato said, “The NC and UML only want the PM's resignation, and then they will agree. Our priority is the peace and Constitution. Let us first have an agreement on constitutional issues before discussing other issues.”
Political sources on all sides said that this was a period of tough bargaining over power-sharing, and deflect blame for the CA's inability to write the Constitution to other parties. The dispute can also be traced to divergent interpretations of a five-point agreement signed in early May. It says that the Prime Minister would resign and hand over government leadership to NC, before Constitution promulgation which is to happen before May 27. While NC leaders are focusing on the part that says the Prime Minister must resign before May 27, the Maoists and Madhesi parties emphasise that the agreement was that the Prime Minister would resign only after the constitution was finalised, before constitution promulgation. A Maoist Minister said, “Since the Constitution is not done, there is no reason for him to resign right now.”