Nepal Proposes Charter Change Ahead of Key Polls

Nepal’s government on Tuesday registered a new amendment bill to its controversial constitution in a bid to persuade all political parties to take part in long-delayed local elections.

The May elections — the first at the local level for nearly two decades — have left Kathmandu’s already divided political establishment in turmoil.

Parties representing the Madhesi ethnic group — who have long complained of being marginalised at the ballot box — have refused to take part in elections without an amendment to the constitution, while the largest opposition party has refused to back any charter changes.

The new bill skirts the contentious issue of redrawing federal boundaries — the central Madhesi demand — instead proposing to set up a commission to recommend changes to the country’s proposed provinces.

“We decided to withdraw the previous amendment bill as it was unlikely to be endorsed from the parliament and even ruling parties were against it,” Hit Raj Pandey, a member of the ruling Maoist party, told AFP.

“The move of the government to register the new amendment bill is aimed at holding the local poll in the stipulated date and ensuring the participation of agitated Madhesi parties as well.”

Nepal emerged from a bloody civil war in 2006 and the local elections are a key step in the drawn out peace process that brought an end to the violence, transforming the country from a Hindu monarchy to a federal state.

The local elections will pave the way for provincial and national elections, which need to be held by January 2018 according to the constitution.

Laxman Lal Karn, a Madhesi leader, told AFP they had not made any decision whether they would now participate in the local elections.

“We will take a decision only after the government passes the new amendment bill from the parliament,” Karn said.

The new constitution was passed in September 2015 on a wave of national solidarity after the deadly earthquake of April that year, but sparked bloody demonstrations from the Madhesi ethnic group who said it left them politically marginalised.

The government registered an initial bill to amend the constitution last November but failed to pass it.

“This amendment bill is a signal that we might be heading towards solutions. All parties want the election so this bill has a better chance of getting approved and paving way for the polls,” Guna Raj Luitel, editor of the Nagarik newspaper.

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