Nepal’s continuing political turmoil stalls government, development projects and peace process

By Binaj Gurubacharya, AP
Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Nepal struggles amid political turmoil

KATMANDU, Nepal — A power battle that has left Nepal’s political system in limbo for months has also frozen efforts to solidify peace, write a constitution and push ahead with development in this desperately poor nation.

With no one in charge, plans to build badly needed rural roads, increase electricity generation in power-starved cities and move ahead on constructing Nepal’s first rail line have all sat untouched.

Demands for new police officers to help fight rising crime have also gone unfilled.

“People are suffering. The monsoon rain has washed away roads, but repairs are not being done,” said Sita Sharma, a government office worker in Katmandu, the capital.

Since resigning in June, Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal and his cabinet have been running a caretaker administration, attending to little more than the most urgent functions of government.

None of the political parties has a majority in parliament. The former insurgents in the Maoist party say they should form the government since they have the most seats, but they have been unable to forge a coalition with the Marxist party or the Nepali Congress Party.

On Monday, parliament failed in its fifth attempt to elect a new prime minister.

The political standoff has led many to lose faith with the leaders they backed during 2006 street protests that ousted a centuries-old monarchy and turned this Himalayan nation into a republic.

“They were supposed to bring the nation out of misery, instead they are so busy trying to grab power while the nation slides toward more chaos,” said Ram Shrestha, an engineer.

The government is unable to do much more than pay government workers and continue work on established projects, because the annual budget has been delayed by the political paralysis, said Bal Krishna Khad, a minister in the caretaker government.

“Development work has come to a complete halt,” said Shreekant Regmi, an independent analyst, who fears the deadlock could turn the country into a failed state.

Nepal is in desperate need of new infrastructure. Katmandu endures hours of electricity cuts every day, because the hydroelectric power plants cannot meet demand. Residents get drinking water for only two hours every three days from a government-run utility.

Tulsi Sitaula, a top official at the transport ministry, says a program to repair hundreds of roads and highways and to build new ones has fallen victim to the dispute.

The peace process, which brought the Maoist insurgents into mainstream politics in 2006, has also stalled. Thousands of former rebels are still living in U.N.-run camps, awaiting a government decision to integrate them into the national army or try to return them to civilian life.

Lawmakers also failed to meet a May 2010 dateline to write a new constitution aimed at cementing the peace. After giving themselves a one-year extension, they have made little progress.

Businesses are hesitant to invest, because they have no indication what the future government’s financial policies will be, said Kebal Raymajhi, a business executive.

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