New Nepal assembly convenes to write constitution

AP News
Posted: Jan 22, 2014 7:36 AM

KATMANDU, Nepal (AP) — After a two-month delay, Nepal's newly elected Constituent Assembly convened Wednesday to begin its main task: drafting a constitution, which the Himalayan nation has lacked for the past five years.

Wednesday's meeting was largely ceremonial. The assembly is expected to start discussing proposals for the constitution next week.

The 601-seat assembly will also serve as the nation's parliament.

"There should be no doubt that we will be able to complete the new constitution within one year and at the same time we want to assure that we will soon agree on a coalition government," said Sushil Koirala, leader of the Nepali Congress party.

Koirala's party has the most seats but is short of a majority. The assembly is likely to choose him as the next prime minister.

The assembly was elected on Nov. 19, but was unable to convene because the United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), made up of former rebels, refused to participate, saying there were election irregularities. They eventually agreed to join.

The Himalayan country has stumbled through the last five years with no constitution and a parliamentary paralysis in addressing chronic problems.

A constitution was supposed to have been written by an assembly elected in 2008 following the end of a 10-year Maoist insurgency and the overthrow of the centuries-old monarchy. But the assembly was riven by infighting and never finished its work.

The assembly terminated in 2012 and new elections were announced. It took months for the political parties to reach an agreement on who would conduct the polls. Finally it was agreed that an interim government headed by the Supreme Court chief judge would conduct the election so no party would have an advantage.