Uncertainty looms over elections in Nepal

AP News
Posted: Sep 08, 2012 1:50 AM
Uncertainty looms over elections in Nepal

KATMANDU, Nepal (AP) — Nepal's prime minister deflected criticism when the nation's interim parliament collapsed in May by promising to hold new elections in November.

But less than three months from the announced poll date, even Baburam Bhattarai's own advisers acknowledge there won't be elections this year.

The delay is certain to increase the already high levels of political turmoil in a country struggling to recover from a bloody civil war and trying to transform itself into a republic after the overthrow of its monarchy.

For now, the poor Himalayan nation is left with no legislature, a prime minister who opponents say has illegally taken power and an uncooperative president who, while largely ceremonial, is crucial to holding new elections. Opposition parties say they won't even participate in new polls unless Bhattarai resigns in favor of a national coalition.

"The present government has lost the trust of all the parties, and we will not allow this government to conduct the elections," said Dilendra Badu, a spokesman for the Nepali Congress party. "We will take part in the polls, but not under this one."

The problems stem from Nepal's inability to write a new constitution following the overthrow of the monarchy. A Constituent Assembly was elected to a two-year term in 2008 to write the document, but riven by political battles and distrust for the former Maoist rebels, it failed even after its term was repeatedly extended.

When the parties couldn't agree to another extension, Bhattarai, a Maoist leader, announced he would stay in charge and lead a caretaker administration — a move with no basis in the interim constitution — and called for Nov. 22 elections.

But before polls can be held, the government needs to amend the interim constitution to allow for the election of another Constituent Assembly and to change a faulty voting age clause. There is no parliament to do that.

The only way laws can be amended is by ordinances issued by the president. President Ram Baran Yadav, who is from the opposition Nepali Congress Party, could issue ordinances to help, but he has refused.

Nil Kantha Upreti, who heads Nepal's Election Commission, said even if the amendments are passed, the body would still need four more months to prepare for the polls. Upreti said April would be the earliest he could conceive of holding elections, and the prime minister's adviser, Devendra Poudel, said that is roughly the government's new target.

What Does Female Empowerment Mean?
Dennis Prager

"We are initiating new rounds of talks with the political parties to fix a new poll date and also amend the laws," Poudel said.

The opposition parties, however, are adamant in demanding Bhattarai resign first.

Even if he does, it's not clear how a successor government could be named, since there is no parliament to elect it and it's not clear if the interim constitution gives the president the authority to appoint it.

Unless the political parties start working together, elections will be impossible, said Yagya Adhikari, political science professor at Tribhuwan University in Nepal's capital, Katmandu.

But they have agreed on little over the past four years. It took years to decide on the fate of the thousands of former rebel fighters confined to camps since the Maoists gave up their armed revolt and joined a peace process in 2006. They are still waiting to be integrated into the national army.

"Political parties need to give up their own interest and agenda and be flexible to help bring the nation out of the crisis," Adhikari said.