Friday, July 11, 2008

Post-royal political deadlock drags on in Nepal

Thu Jul 10, 11:55 AM ET

Nepal's Maoists said Thursday they were still unable to form a government and fill a post-monarchy political vacuum because ethnic parties from the south were holding up the process.

The impoverished Himalayan nation has effectively been without a proper government since May 28, when a newly-elected constitutional assembly voted to sack unpopular king Gyanendra, abolish the 240-year-old monarchy and proclaim a republic.

Two weeks ago interim prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala -- who steered the country through a two-year long peace process -- also resigned to make way for the Maoists to form a government.

The former rebels won most seats in the constitutional assembly elections, but not enough to form a government by themselves.

Senior Maoist official Krishna Bahadur Mahara said the process was now being blocked by ethnic Mahadhesis from the southern plains, a community that has long complained of being left out of the corridors of power by Nepal's hill elite.

The Mahadhesis from the Terai lowlands on the border with India -- home to around half of the country's 27 million population -- want an autonomous federal state, and hold 81 seats in the 601-member assembly.

"The demands from Mahadhesi community has certainly delayed the formation of the government," Mahara told AFP, but said progress was being made in closed door talks with representatives of the ethnic group.

"We are looking forward to end the ongoing political vacuum as we have reached the deal with the Mahadhesi leaders to incorporate their demands in the amendment of the interim constitution," he said.

"The process to form the government will begin as soon as the interim constitution is amended by the assembly," he said, but added debate on that would not start before next Monday.

Nepal's constitutional assembly is tasked with rewriting the country's constitution, and will also function as a de facto parliament until that work is complete.

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