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A question of trust - Nepal's fragile peace

NAIROBI, 16 March 2011 (IRIN) - As public discontent grows, Nepal appears to be on the road to crisis unless its political leaders can succeed in drafting a new constitution soon, experts say.

Almost five years since a comprehensive peace agreement was signed between government forces and Maoist rebels - raising hopes of a new era of stability for the impoverished nation - Nepal risks deeper political turmoil.

“The clock is ticking,” Mohan Manandhar, an independent political analyst and executive director of the Niti Foundation, an NGO specializing in policy issues, told IRIN. “Time is already too short. They have to start work on resolving the contentious issues right now. We fear a national crisis is at hand if they fail again.”

On 28 May, Nepalese lawmakers agreed to extend the drafting of a new constitution by another three months - the second such reprieve since the peace deal was signed in November 2006, ending a decade-long conflict which resulted in more than 13,000 lives lost.

Following the country’s 2008 elections, a 601-member Constituent Assembly (CA) was formed representing 26 political parties with the key task of framing a new constitution within two years.

But efforts to draw up a new constitution and ensure stability for this landlocked nation of 30 million have not proven easy.

Political infighting between the country’s three major political parties - the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M), Nepali Congress (NC) and Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist (UML) - continues, while many of Nepal's more contentious issues - including the reintegration of thousands of Maoist ex-combatants into the country’s national security forces - remain unresolved.

So bad is the squabbling, Nepal's aging politicians cannot even agree on what system of government to adopt or how many provinces the country should have.

International concern

On 28-29 May, a five-point deal was reached between the major political leaders, the most crucial being the resignation of current Prime Minister and UML leader Jhalnath Khanal, paving the way for a national unity government.

Khanal agreed to step down once a new power-sharing government could be formed, although no exact timeframe was established.

Meanwhile, this latest deadline for the drafting of Nepal’s constitution has renewed international concern for a country already facing numerous challenges.

Aside from a crumbling infrastructure - including daily power outages, water shortages, and chronic fuel shortages - more than 3.5 million people are food insecure, and the country has high levels of poverty and unemployment.

More than 30 percent of the population lives on less than US$1 per day and remittances account for roughly 23 percent of Nepal’s gross domestic product, the World Bank reports.

Hundreds of thousands leave the country each year for work.

“The parties have agreed to accomplish basic works relating to the peace process and get a draft constitution within three months which is possible if the parties seriously engage and resolve the issues,” Krishna Khanal, director of the UN Centre for Constitutional Dialogue (CCD), said.

Echoing this, the Carter Center in Nepal, which has been closely observing the peace process over the years, stressed that formation of a consensus government would facilitate these efforts but should not detract from the main goals of making substantive progress on the peace process.

“Nepal's political leaders should now swiftly translate these commitments into action by making concrete progress on the integration and rehabilitation of former Maoist combatants and finalizing a draft constitution by 28 August 2011," said Sarah Levit-Shore, country representative of the Carter Center in Nepal.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has welcomed the decision to extend the CA, while at the same time calling on all parties to work out their differences and move the peace process forward.

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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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