Nepal government puts off announcing poll date


Kathmandu : The uncertainty over Nepal's crucial election was further prolonged Saturday with the ruling coalition putting off the announcement of a fresh date despite mounting concerns expressed by the international community.

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After dragging his feet over calling a meeting of the top leaders of the parties in the alliance to determine a new election date, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala finally called the meeting Saturday. However, it decided to first focus on drafting new laws for the election and fix the date only after the preparations were complete.

According to Nepal's Chief Election Commissioner Bhoj Ran Pokhrel, at least three more new laws need to be drafted.

Pokhrel had earlier said that the constituent assembly election – in which people will decide if they will keep Nepal's 238-year-old monarchy or go for a republic – can be held by November-end if the law-making is completed by the first week of June.

Besides framing new laws, the government will also have to amend the constitution that was promulgated this year since the statute pledges to hold the election by June 20.

However, Pokhrel had ruled out holding elections in June because of the deteriorating security situation and lack of time.

Now even if the government rushes through the laws, it is debatable whether the security situation will improve, especially in the Terai plains in southern Nepal.

When Pokhrel made his remarks, there was mainly an unarmed group, the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum, active in the Terai. Now nearly half a dozen more organisations, all of them armed, have jumped into the fray, spreading violence and the rule of the gun.

Even as the eight parties began their consultations in the capital Saturday, a band of former Maoists, the Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha led by Jwala Singh, enforced a shutdown in Rautahat district in southern Nepal, that has been one of the epicentres of violence.

The general strike was called to flex their muscles over the abduction and killing of a comrade nearly two weeks ago by their rival faction, also comprising former Maoists.

Besides the violence in the plains, the government has to grapple with protests in parliament that have kept the house paralysed for five weeks.

Though the stalled house was scheduled to convene Saturday, it failed to do so after the protesters – MPs from the Terai, including those from the ruling alliance – said they would not allow it till the government conceded their demands.

The legislators had been asking for a high-level commission to probe the violence in the plains that has killed nearly 80 people so far.

Though Koirala and his ministers Friday announced the formation of a five-member commission headed by Supreme Court judge Khilraj Regmi, the dissenters have not been pacified.

"The formation of the commission doesn't address all our demands," Bijay Kumar Gachchedar, a former minister and Terai MP, told IANS. "Though meant to probe violence targeting the Madhesi community (people mostly of Indian origin living in the southern plains), it doesn't include a single Madhesi."

Besides the commission, the MPs are also demanding that the government scrap an earlier commission formed to delineate fresh election constituencies, especially in the Terai belt.

"We want a fresh census in Terai," Gachchedar said. "New constituencies should be formed only after that."

Thousands of Terai residents have been living without citizenship for decades, owing to neglect of the belt by a succession of governments. As a result, they cannot vote or hold government jobs.

Though the Maoist guerrillas signed a peace pact last year, signifying an end to their decade-old armed uprising demanding a republic, a fresh movement began in the Terai plains with the diaspora demanding higher representation in the government and greater rights.

Though the new government began issuing fresh citizenship certificates, Terai residents say thousands still lack them.