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Nepal parliament approves measure to draft new constitution

[JURIST] In a ground-breaking political development in Nepalese history, the country's recently reinstated parliament on Sunday unanimously endorsed a proposal to hold elections for a constituent assembly that will draft a new constitution [current text]. "Honorable members, there was no 'nay' heard during the voice voting on the motion. I hereby declare that the resolution tabled by Honorable Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala has been passed unanimously," Deputy Speaker Chitralekha Yadav announced at the end of the four-hour long discussion on the motion in the parliament Sunday evening. The idea of holding a constituent assembly in Nepal was first floated back in 1951, when democracy was first established in this Himalayan Kingdom ending the 104-year long Rana oligarchy. Nepal's 237-year old monarchy [official website] has been against the constituent assembly since then. Many believe the election could decide the fate of the monarchy.

The path toward creating a constituent assembly was cleared earlier this week as King Gyanendra [official profile; BBC profile] reinstated the parliament [JURIST report] dissolved in 2002 amidst nationwide people's unrest against the king's 15-month long direct rule. Altogether 18 people were killed and thousands injured during the 18-day people's uprising [JURIST news archive]. The unrest prompted the king to accept the election of the constituent assembly as demanded by Nepal's seven pro-democracy parties and Maoist rebels [BBC backgrounder].

The endorsement of the constituent assembly has addressed one of the main demands set forth by the Maoists to end their 10-year armed insurgency, during which over 13,000 people have been killed, and has opened the doors to a political solution to the insurgency. Speaking in parliament, Nepal's newly appointed Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala [OPM website; Wikipedia profile] called on Maoists rebels to negotiate and urged a permanent ceasefire.

Kiran Chapagain is a special correspondent for JURIST writing from Nepal. He is an Assistant Senior Reporter for the Kathmandu Post.

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