Amid protests Nepal presents 'illegal' new constitution after quakes

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 30, 2015 12:44 PM

By Ross Adkin

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Nepal presented a preliminary draft of its first republican constitution on Tuesday, but the country's top court has questioned the legality of the document that was rushed through after devastating earthquakes spurred politicians into action.

Some opposition members protested, tearing up what they said were copies of the draft. They complained the charter was not progressive enough and did not reflect the interests of marginalized groups.

The new constitution was a condition of a 2006 peace deal with Maoists rebels that ended a 10-year civil war, which killed more than 17,000 people. The country's 239-year-old monarchy was abolished two years after the conflict ended.

The draft, which seeks to divide the country into eight provinces but leaves their boundaries and names to be decided later, follows seven years in which Nepal's politicians have missed a series of deadlines.

"It is a milestone in ushering in a new political setup of democracy and federal republic with inclusive character. It is a gateway to a new constitution which will transform the country politically, socially and economically," said Ramesh Lekhak, a member of the drafting committee.

The document will now be placed in the public domain for discussion before a final draft is prepared.

Nepal, a poor Himalayan country of 28 million people, was devastated by two major earthquakes in April and May. Analysts said politicians may have shown greater urgency to overcome the prolonged deadlock after criticism of their response to the twin disasters.

Politicians pushed ahead with their drafting work despite the Supreme Court this month saying that a decision to hand the naming and demarcating of the proposed provinces to separate bodies ran counter to an interim 2007 constitution.

"There are still definite questions concerning the legality and constitutionality of the document," Dipendra Jha, an advocate who contested the parties' deal on the draft, told Reuters.

"The earthquake has rattled the parties, and also shown how a good constitution needs to be part of the reconstruction process," said Jha. "But it should not be a chance for the ruling classes to reassert their power and forget those who are marginalized. I do not want another conflict in the future."

(Additional reporting by Gopal Sharma; Writing by Tommy Wilkes; Editing by Douglas Busvine and Crispian Balmer)