Faced with a May 28 deadline to prepare a new constitution, Nepal’s Constituent Assembly has decided to adjust the calendar to provide more time. Constituent Assembly Chairman Subash Nemwang said today that the situation called for drastic action: “We cannot extend the deadline again, so this was the only option.” Last year the Assembly voted to add one year to the original deadline in the face of political differences and extended delays.
Progress in drafting the constitution came to a near halt after Prime Minister Madhav Nepal resigned in May “to facilitate national consensus.” His resignation led to nearly nine months of inaction as the country’s three major parties bickered over who would lead the new government. With the eventual election of CPN-UML Chairman Jhalanath Khanal as PM, progress in Assembly committees assigned constitution-writing sub-tasks picked up pace, but nearly four-dozen contentious issues remain unresolved.
Nepal is well-known for its divisive politics, but all factions agree that there is no alternative to completing the constitution on time. A three-point all-party agreement was hammered out to adjust the calendar, and the motion co-sponsored by parliamentary leaders of all 25 parties in the Assembly passed unanimously yesterday.
“This first sign of real consensus is a major breakthrough for the country,” Chairman Nemwang said. He outlined the agreement at a press conference yesterday: “First we agreed that completing our work by May 28 is essential, and we decided to add two days to each week between now and the deadline.” The third point of the agreement allows more days to be added to each week if necessary.
Leaders of the major parties contacted late today agreed that having nine days in each week would help, but several of them suggested that still more time would be required. “Ten- or eleven-day weeks would be better,” remarked Nepali Congress party president Sushil Koirala. When informed of Koirala’s comment, Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal declared it to be “an example of feudal and revisionist thinking” and demanded 12-day weeks.
The CPN-UML central committee spent the day discussing the matter but adjourned without reaching a decision. Party insiders said that leaders were divided between those favoring 13-day weeks and those calling for thirteen-and-a-half day weeks. Lawmakers from the southern bloc said that they would block all progress on the new constitution unless a “Madeshi week” of at least 14 days was established.
A spokesman from the Nepal Chambers of Commerce and Industry welcomed the move, saying that longer weeks would boost the country’s output and GDP. When asked whether wages would be adjusted commensurately, he said that that would be “impossible.” Trade union leaders reacted strongly, threatening a nationwide strike unless weeks were reduced to three days and the minimum wage doubled.
A meeting of the All Nepal Astrologers’ Association, which fixes the length of the Nepali months and chooses auspicious dates for festivals and holidays, failed to come to a decision about the names for the new days of the week. Delegates were split between those arguing for names such as Ramsday and Sitasday “to counterbalance Western calendar imperialism” and a camp led by ethnic minorities insisting that respect for marginalized peoples requires the new days to be named Sherpasday, Magarsday, etc.
Some foreign embassies questioned the practicality of the move, but a combined statement from European legations acknowledged that Nepal’s official Bikram Sambat calendar, used nowhere else in the world, was already so confusing that the change would make little real difference.
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