In Nepal: Inside the Constituent Assembly
June 4, 2008
On Wednesday, May 28, I was at the Constituent Assembly (CA) until just before midnight when Nepal was declared a federal republic and the king was given 15 days to vacate the palace. The CA was initially supposed to convene at 10:30am, then 3:15 pm. It wasn’t until after 9:00 p.m. that proceedings finally got underway. Throughout the day, party leaders were at the Prime Minister’s residence debating the leadership structure of the new government and the composition of the 26 nominated seats. The motion that passed last night provides for a president to be elected by the house, a vice president, and an executive prime minister. We assume that Girija Koirala will be the president and Prachanda the executive prime minister. What remains unclear is whether the army will report to the president instead of the PM, and which party will fill the post of vice president. There was no resolution on the nominated members. That should be decided before the CA reconvenes next week.
It was a long, long day, but exhilarating to be present at this historic event. There were demonstrators on the streets most of yesterday, including thousands we heard shouting and cheering just outside the conference center. It was relatively peaceful, although the police had to disperse the crowd with tear gas around 5:00 p.m. As reported, there were also two bombs at the conference center gates. They created some tension, although no one was hurt. When I drove home at midnight, there were still revelers in the streets.
It was a momentous day for Nepal.
On Friday, May 30, Prachanda announced that the Maoists are reopening their demand for an executive presidency and will crack down on the media if they are critical of them. He was speaking to a Maoist rally, which is his most radical audience, and his lieutenants have already begun backpedaling, but the statements are still disconcerting. The parties have reacted strongly, which is good news for the democratic process, but also means the formation of the new government is likely to be delayed while the dispute is resolved.
The below pictures were taken by a teacher at the Lincoln School in Kathmandu:
Nick Langton is The Asia Foundation’s Country Representative in Nepal. Among many projects in Nepal, the Foundation is supporting the Constituent Assembly process.
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