For more than a week, four Nepali members of the Constituent Assembly have prevented the Assembly from conducting any business. On Sunday, another group of women legislators spilled into the area in front of the rostrum to do the same. When they withdrew, the four resumed their protest.
Different interests within the legislature use this tactic, a “gherao,” or “surrounding” of the speaker’s microphone for many purposes. So far at least the Assembly’s rules do not permit their removal. Occasionally the Speaker of the Assembly will try to conduct business during the protests, but normally he simply adjourns the house for the day.
The women were demanding a one-third representation in the cabinet. Currently there are only five women in the 36-member body. They say that the parties in power had agreed to a 33 percent quota for women and then reneged on the deal. Formation of the cabinet has taken more than 100 days due to squabbling between and within Nepal’s main parties over the allocation of ministries.
The four ministers’ demands center on preferences for Dalits, the lowest class once called untouchables. They are calling for a 90 percent quota for minorities in all public jobs.
The women’s protest appeared to be spontaneous and genuine. It also lasted only for 15 minutes, but the four lawmakers’ demands are so unrealistic that there is widespread speculation that they are acting on behalf of other interests.
Despite the deadline of May 28 for promulgation of a new constitution and many pressing bills awaiting action, none of the main parties show any urgency about moving forward. The remaining constitutional issues are all difficult, and none of the parties appear ready to compromise on their differing positions.
And the issue of demobilizing the Maoist troops and militia remains stalemate, blocking a new constitution. The center and rightist parties insist that it can’t be written until the Maoists separate themselves from their armed wing. The Maoists adamantly refuse to give up that leverage on the process until they get a “progressive” constitution that allows them to pronounce their 12-year-long insurrection a success.
Maoist chairman Dahal rules a party deeply split between those who advocate government take-over and those who believe that it is time to act within the system. His recent swing to the latter position may be genuine or, as skeptics say, merely tactical.
But it doesn’t really matter which it is. Even the “soft core” Maoists need to be able to declare victory. They agree with their hard-core comrades that holding the stick of the People’s Liberation Army and the Young Communist League militia is essential.
With the balance of power equation in Nepal preventing the necessary two-thirds majority to create a new constitution, the best that can be expected in the near-term is the stalemate we see today.