Fresh crisis in Nepal as constitution deadline whizzes past

Nepalese people gather for a mass meeting to express their social harmony and the punctual implementation of a new constitution in Kathmandu May 23, 2012. Nepal Supreme Court gave a deadline to draw up a new constitution for the Himalayan nation till Sunday May 27, 2012.

Nepal's efforts to draft a new constitution hit another hurdle Thursday with the resignation of the country's deputy prime minister. 

Krishna Sitaula said he was resigning in protest over a move to extend the mandate of the provisional Constituent Assembly for another three months to finish writing the constitution. At present, the assembly has until Sunday to draft the document, or risk the legislature being disbanded.

"I am no longer in the cabinet from today. It is up to the party to decide whether to stay in the government but there is no relevance in me staying in the government," he told reporters, according to the Times of India.

If there is no new constitution and no agreement on an extension by Sunday, parliament will be disbanded ahead of fresh elections, creating a destabilising power vacuum, the paper said. 

Lawmakers have broadly agreed on a federalist structure comprising 11 states to accommodate the most populous of Nepal's many ethnic minorities. 

But ethnic factions continue to argue over the specifics, with protests often spilling into violence.

On Wednesday, thousands gathered in central Kathmandu to press for peace and the new statute, while a shutdown by protesters that crippled life for weeks in the far west resumed on Thursday, the Times of India said.

Earlier this week, Prashant Jha, a perceptive observer of Nepalese political affairs, wrote in India's Hindu newspaper that "The issue of state restructuring perhaps resonates most among ordinary citizens, especially those belonging to communities excluded from the power structure due to their ethnic, caste, regional and religious identities."

"It is not merely a yearning for administrative decentralisation. Excluded communities see it as a way to address historic injustice, break the Kathmandu-centred nature of the state, and exercise real political power through self-rule in regions where they are dominant," Jha argues.

But "the elite backlash has been strong. [Upper-caste] dominated parties and media have adopted various ways to undermine the federal agenda, since they fear considerable erosion in power."