05/02/2006, 00.00
NEPAL
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Parliament unanimously approves proposal to hold elections to a new constituent assembly

by Prakash Dubey
Newly-appointed PM Koirala's motion is not only approved by seven opposition parties but also by pro-monarchy parties. An historic step but we expected greater openness towards the Maoists, says a social activist.

Kathmandu (AsiaNews) – The Nepalese Parliament unanimously approved a proposal presented by newly-appointed Prime Minister Girja Prasad Koirala to hold elections to a constituent assembly. The proposal involves electing a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution that would decide the fate of the monarchy and prevent unilateral actions like King Gyanendra's direct takeover in February 2005.

"The desire of Nepali people is peace and the democratic atmosphere is all about an environment whereby people could leave fearlessly," Koirala said on Sunday afternoon. "The process for this has already begun. Let's all of us cooperate in this process."

"The determining factor is that the proposal has been approved not only by the seven opposition party alliance, but also by the Rastriya Prajatantra and Rastriya Janashakti, that is parties that tilt towards the monarchy,"  Ram Ekbal Choudhary, a political analyst and human rights activist, told AsiaNews. "This clearly sends a message that, irrespective of why the king imposed direct rule in February 2005, everyone was against his unilateral action and tyranny".

Choudhary said that the new constitution "won't abolish the monarchy, but everyone wants the new charter to guarantee popular sovereignty and spare Nepalis from becoming victims of the whims, prejudices and vested interested not only of the Crown but also of political parties, which might be tempted to exercise an hegemonic power over the state."

"The unanimous vote was without a doubt an historic step on the path towards democracy, but we are hoping for something more," Sabita Malakar, a social activist, told AsiaNews.

"Prime Minister Koirala did not take the necessary measures to persuade the Maoists to join the dialogue and reward them for their unilateral three-month ceasefire," she said. "It would have been important—the Maoists would not have been able to refuse that offer. Koirala did not do so and this might cause renewed Maoist violence."

"The government should also declare a ceasefire," she added. "It should proclaim an amnesty for jailed and wanted Maoist rebels, urging them not only to opt for peace and dialogue but also join the government. If, despite this openness, the rebels continued to carry out violent actions, they would have all Nepalis and the international community against them".

Instead, newly-appointed Prime Minister Koirala simply called on "the Maoists to stop the violence and as soon as possible cooperate for dialogue and peace". He also failed to remove the "terrorist" label from the rebels.

Malakar did however acknowledge that such a step cannot be easily made since the "Nepalese Royal Army and the other parties limit the Prime Minister's leeway".

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