Businesses closed up and traffic disappeared in the capital of Kathmandu on Tuesday as minority parties enforced a city-wide bandh, or shutdown, to protest the drafting of Nepal’s new constitution.
The Constitutional Assembly, the 601-member body tasked with drafting Nepal’s constitution, failed to reach a consensus on key issues this week. Most leaders have lost hope of seeing a constitution by the January 22 deadline. On Monday, a committee tasked with settling disputed issues reported that they had failed to reach a consensus.
“This time the parties reached closer to consensus on the contentious issues than during the previous meetings. But we could not reach consensus in a package,” Baburam Bhattarai, who chaired the committee, said.
With the news of the consensus committee’s failure, an alliance of majority parties is threatening to attempt to force through the new constitution.
Instead of attending Tuesday’s assembly meeting, minority party leaders took to the streets to protest. A 19 party alliance led by the United Communist Party of Nepal–Maoist (UCPN–M) called for shutdowns across the country.
The roads emptied of virtually all traffic, save that of protesters, on-lookers, and a large number of police stationed throughout the city near intersections and protests. While the demonstrations remained mostly peaceful throughout the day, the police reported the arrest of 71 bandh enforcers, who forcibly halted vehicles and vandalized several buses.
On Monday, however, a protester died in Janakpur, a city in the south of the country. Protestors accuse the police of assaulting the 27-year-old man; police countered he died of health problems after they found him collapsed in the street.
At the heart of the disputes is the issue of ethnic-based federalism, and how Nepal’s states will be defined. Minority parties are calling for states that are based on the majority ethnic group in that area. But the two majority parties, the Nepali Congress and Communist Party of Nepal–United Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML), who formed an alliance to command two-thirds of the vote in the Constitutional Assembly, say that this will cause disintegration of Nepal’s central government.
“Such a constitution will not be owned by all of Nepal,” said protester Surendra Kumar Jha.
It appears no one will be happy with the results of this Constitutional Assembly, which is Nepal’s second attempt at drafting a constitution. As the January 22 deadline approaches, trust in Nepal’s leaders seems to be dwindling. Further protests and shutdowns are planned throughout the nation for the next week.
Seven years after electing a body to draft a constitution, the government still seems a long way from a finished product.