The assembly's mandate was to write a new constitution to establish a federal democratic republic. Parties were divided on how many federal states the country should have and whether they should be based on the ethnicity of people in that state or the geographical features of that area.
Nepal Runs Out Constitution Clock, Slips into Crisis
By KRISHNA POKHAREL
Nepal dissolved its four-year-old Constituent Assembly at midnight Sunday and set new elections after political parties failed to agree on the model of federalism the country should adopt in a new constitution.
In a televised midnight address to the nation, Baburam Bhattarai, prime minister of Nepal's Maoist-led national government, said the government has set Nov. 22 as the date for fresh elections to a new Constituent Assembly.
Nepalese Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai speaks during a press conference in Katmandu on Sunday.
"We tried our best to save the Constituent Assembly but we failed" Mr. Bhattarai said. He said there was a political consensus to hold fresh elections. "There was no alternative to fresh elections to collect the people's mandate," he added.
The announcement ushered in yet another period of political crisis for the tiny Himalayan nation. Nepal elected a 601-member Constituent Assembly, which also worked as its parliament, in April 2008 following a popular revolution against the monarchy in the spring of 2006. The assembly was part of the United Nations-backed peace process that brought former Maoist rebels into the government after a decade-long civil war in which more than 13,000 people died.
The dissolution of the Constituent Assembly without a new constitution is a huge setback for those who were looking to a new constitution, written by the popularly elected assembly, to chart a new course for the war-torn and economically lagging country. A few hours before the government's announcement, as it became clear that a new constitution was certainly not coming, a young Nepali posted on her Facebook page: "I think instead of panicking about constitution, we should rather lose trust in government and everything and stop having any expectations."
The assembly's mandate was to write a new constitution to establish a federal democratic republic. In 2008, soon after it was constituted, the assembly voted out the monarchy but failed to deliver a new constitution even after extending the initial deadline of May 28, 2010, four times. Parties were divided on how many federal states the country should have and whether they should be based on the ethnicity of people in that state or the geographical features of that area.
Nepal's Supreme Court said in November that the parties can't extend the term of the Constituent Assembly any further. That forced the political parties to agree on another sticky issue—the final integration of about 20,000 former Maoist fighters into the national army or back into society. Mr. Bhattarai, the prime minister, noted in his address the success of the integration process. But the parties reached a stalemate on a federalist structure.
That political division was on display outside the Constituent Assembly complex in Katmandu, the capital, on Sunday with groups supporting ethnicity-based federal states and those in opposition clashing with police.
Nepal is multiethnic and multilingual nation and the Shah monarchy that ruled for 240 years till 2008 promoted a Nepali identity and sought to promote unity through the image of a gems-studded, yak-furred crown that Shah Kings sported in their public and religious appearances. But feudalism and inequity are deeply rooted, with upper Hindu castes suppressing the rights of lower castes and ethnic groups. And ethnic groups, in the vacuum created by the monarchy's dissolution, clamored for states based on their singular ethnic identity and called regular strikes to make their point, hurting businesses and the economy.
Mr. Bhattarai said that under Nepal's 2007 interim constitution and the last full constitution of 1990, executive power will rest with his government until the November elections. Several political parties petitioned the country's president, Ram Baran Yadav, saying Mr. Bhattarai's decision to call for fresh elections was "unconstitutional." The president, a titular post, has yet to give final approval to the government's decision.