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Nepal: Court Orders Government to Finish Constitution; Failed Efforts Result in Disbanding of Legislature

(May 29, 2012) On May 24, 2012, Nepal's Supreme Court ordered the country's government to finish a draft of a new constitution by May 27, denying a request from the government for a three-month extension. (Maureen Cosgrove, Nepal High Court Orders Government to Finish New Constitution, PAPER CHASE NEWSBURST (May 25, 2012).) The decision to request the extension had been reached at a meeting on May 22 of major political parties; those parties were not in agreement on the basic structure for the federal units within the country or on other issues. The Cabinet had later endorsed the plan to request a new deadline. (Utpal Parashar, Nepal Constitution Drafting Deadline Pushed by 3 Months, HINDUSTAN TIMES (May 23, 2012).)

On May 25, it was reported that three of the major political parties, the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists, the Nepali Congress, and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist, had come to a tentative agreement, so that a draft constitution could be finished by the May 27 deadline. One major group, the Madhesi Front, did not participate. Per the agreement, the Constituent Assembly, the body working on the draft, was to resolve the remaining issues and eventually become a legislative parliament. (Punjita Pradhan, News Analysis: Nepali Major Parties Push for Introducing Constitution, ENGLISH.NEWS.CN (May 25, 2012).)

On May 27, a crisis point was reached, and Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai announced that the Constituent Assembly was dissolved. He added that he would remain in power and hold elections for a legislative body in November, a step that was criticized by other leaders as a power grab. Bhattarai expressed his disappointment that the situation had developed as it did, stating, “[p]olitical consensus is still needed to move ahead. … Let us learn from mistakes and move ahead.” (Kiran Chapagain & Jim Yardley, Legislature in Nepal Disbands in Failure, THE NEW YORK TIMES (May 27, 2012).)

The members of the Constituent Assembly were elected in 2008 for two year terms, but those terms have been extended several times. (Cosgrove, supra.) The Constituent Assembly comprises 240 members elected through direct election and 335 members selected through proportional representation, together with 26 members nominated by the Cabinet. Its major task is to prepare a draft constitution. (Constituent Assembly, Constituent Assembly of Nepal webpage (2009).) The Assembly voted in May 2008 to end Nepal's monarchy and establish a republic. (Andrew Gilmore, Nepal Constituent Assembly Abolishes Monarchy, Declares Republic, PAPER CHASE NEWSBURST (May 28, 2008).)

The Constituent Assembly has also been working on solving human rights problems in the country. United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kyung-wha Kang, speaking to the Assembly in April 2012, stressed the lack of progress on women's rights and on prosecutions for war crimes in Nepal. (Cosgrove, supra.)