01/23/2015, 00.00
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As constitutional talks stall, bishop calls for a secular charter

by Christopher Sharma
Nepal's Constituent Assembly fails to agree on a draft proposal for a new democratic constitution. Various parties blame each other. For the ruling party, Maoist proposal for ethnic federalism is wrong. For Maoists, the majority is denying minorities their "identity" and are showing them little "respect". Catholics and Protestants pray for Nepal's future.

Kathmandu (AsiaNews) - In spite of the prayers and exhortations from tens of thousands of ordinary Nepalis, Nepal's Constituent Assembly yesterday failed to agree on a draft proposal for the country's first democratic constitution after centuries of absolutist Hindu monarchy.

In view of the setback, the government has tried to reassure the international community, saying that the dispute would soon be resolved and that a new constitution would be ratified.

However, divisions between the government and opposition run deep on some key elements. And the day after failing they failed to agree on a joint proposal, the various parties began trading accusations, blaming each other for the flop.

KP Oli, president of the governing UML party blamed Maoists who "insist on ethnic federalism," which "is not sustainable." Such a division, warns the UML, would lead to a "disastrous conflict".

Worse even, as long as Maoists are in the Constituent Assembly, "there is little chance of reaching an agreement."

Conversely, for former Maoist Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai, the current majority is "violating the terms" of the Constituent Assembly and is "denying scores of minority groups their identity" and showing them "little respect."

"The new constitution must recognise the identity of minority groups and respect their dignity and rights," the Maoist leader said.

Still, although ethnically based federalism is a source of divisions, a consensus exists on the mixed form of government, the electoral law and the justice system. The republican form of government and the principle of the separation between state and religion are also non-negotiable.

Concerned about the turn of events, Nepali Catholic leaders are praying for an agreement. Apostolic Vicar Mgr Paul Simick said, "The whole community is praying that a secular and democratic constitution is soon promulgated." In his view, it is high time to end the "transition" and move towards "peace and prosperity".

Evangelical Bishop Narayan Sharma hopes that "all faiths" and "all groups" will be respected, and that every citizen will be able to enjoy "internationally recognised" human rights and civil rights.

After over 240 years of a Hindu absolutist monarchy, Nepal formally became a secular state in 2006.

The interim constitution, approved under the supervision of the UN, bans proselytising, but it allows all citizens to express their faith, even through missionary and charitable activities.

However, the political and economic instability of recent years - linked to power struggles among secularist parties - has strengthened pro-monarchist Hindu movements in, among other things, their efforts to stop conversions, which have been growing since the monarchy was abolished.

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See also
Nepali Muslims want constitution to incorporate Sharia-based personal law
Minority parties quit last session of Constituent Assembly
Petition in favour of the rhino as Nepal’s symbol in lieu of the cow
Nepali Christians hope rights promised by government are not mere propaganda
Parties reach deal to save Nepal’s peace process


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