SPEAKING FREELY Power-sharing wrangle rocks Nepal
By Kamal Dev Bhattarai
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KATHMANDU - A row over who should call the first meeting of Nepal's newly formed Constituent Assembly (CA) has been settled, but now power sharing has emerged as the likeliest issue to delay the assembly in its principle task - drafting a constitution.
Nepal's government has called a first meeting for January 22,
ending a dispute between it and the head of the state, President Ram Baran Yadav, over who had the authority to call it.
Parties have now started negotiations regarding power sharing. This involves the appointment of the five major posts: president, vice-president, prime minister, chairman and vice-chairman of the CA.
The Nepali Congress (NC), a rightist party that emerged as a largest party from last November's CA election, has staked a claim for the leadership of the government.
The CPN-UML, the second-largest communist party, has agreed to form an NC-led national unity government but it wants to change by way of a new election the president - Yadav - who was elected in 2008.
The NC argues that head of the state should be above power sharing among parties and that the tenure of the incumbent government should be continued until the promulgation of a new constitution.
Meanwhile, the Maoist party has demanded the posts of chairman of the CA as well as leadership of other vital positions related to the constitution drafting process.
The Maoist party has publicly said that it would back the NC-led government and play a constructive role in the constitution drafting process. However, it plans to avoid any possible alliances between the NC and the UML, the first and second largest parties, especially as both parties are closer in terms of political ideology.
The issue of electing a new president will be a major source of dispute among the parties in the new CA. After being relegated to the third position in the CA, the UCPN (Maoist) wants to prevent its communist rivals, the CPN-UML, from ascending to power.
The NC has said that its priority is formation of a national unity government that would bring the Maoist party, the third-largest party, into the government fold, saying that only such a government can ensure a new constitution within a year.
Though party leaders claim that the issue of power sharing and constitution drafting are two different tasks and they are not intertwined, the issue affects the constitution drafting process.
After a previous CA election in 2008, Nepal witnessed the formation of five governments and frequent changes in government badly affected the constitution drafting process. Power wrangling among the parties was one of the major reasons for the dissolution of CA last year without delivering a new constitution, which created both political and constitutional crisis in the country.
The process of formation of a new government will begin after the first meeting of CA. After that meeting, the president will call on the parties to form a national unity government as per the article 38(1) of the Interim Constitution. If parties fail to form such government within the given time framework, the head of state will write to the CA, which will also play the role of parliament, to elect a new prime minister through voting in the parliament.
Nepal's parties also blame foreign forces for the delay in a power-sharing deal. They say India and Western countries are interfering in the process.
Maoist spokesperson Agni Sapkota said at a public program this week that Western countries are creating obstacles for a consensus among parties on power sharing and subsequent process of constitution drafting process. The parties' earlier plan for writing a new constitution failed as they became involved in power wrangling and disputes related to the constitution drafting process. The election for second CA was held with a promise to deliver new constitution within a year.
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say.Please click hereif you are interested in contributing. Articles submitted for this section allow our readers to express their opinions and do not necessarily meet the same editorial standards of Asia Times Online's regular contributors.
Kamal Dev Bhattarai is a journalist associated with Nepal's largest selling English newspaper, The Kathmandu Post.