Facebook group vents anger at Nepal’s leaders

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Thousands of young Nepalese have united behind a new Facebook campaign to stop paying the country’s battling politicians if they cannot produce a new constitution by the May 28 deadline.

The diverse group, which includes politicians, activists and the reigning Miss Nepal, gave voice to growing public anger with the lawmakers the country voted in three years ago in the first general election since the civil war.

Nepal’s 601-member parliament was elected in 2008 with a two-year mandate to draft a new national charter.

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The constitution was meant to usher in a new social and political order after centuries of inequality that were a major cause of the decade-long conflict between Maoist insurgents and the state.

But despite a 12-month extension agreed last year, the lawmakers have yet to complete the task — prompting the Facebook campaign for them to forego their salaries.

“I feel huge regret for voting in undeserving candidates during the elections,” 30-year-old teacher Baburam Niraula told AFP at a recent protest in the capital Kathmandu organised on the social networking site.

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“The minds of our politicians have become dull and they don’t think of anything except power. Educated young people need to put pressure on them and compel them to act properly.”

Five years after the end of the war, which claimed at least 16,000 lives, and three years after the abolition of Nepal’s centuries-old Hindu monarchy, signs of growing public anger are manifold.

Earlier this month, the owner of a tea shop in central Nepal reportedly slapped a Maoist lawmaker across the face, saying the country’s political leaders had “betrayed the people”.

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It is a view shared by many of his compatriots — an opinion poll carried out at the start of this year found that 65 percent of Nepalese people believe the country is heading in the wrong direction.

The last extension of the Constituent Assembly (CA), Nepal’s parliament, was followed by a leadership vacuum of nearly eight months, during which lawmakers held 16 failed attempts to elect a new prime minister.

The government that was finally formed in February admits it will not be able to complete the constitution by May 28, and even a first draft now looks unlikely to be finished by then.

Parliament is scheduled to vote next week on whether to extend its term by a further year to give it more time.

Talks on integrating the thousands of Maoist former fighters living in camps around the country into the security forces — another commitment that remains unfulfilled — are continuing, but disagreements on how to do so persist.

The International Crisis Group, a leading think-tank, says both issues have been reduced to bargaining chips in the ongoing power struggle between the political parties.

In a report published last month, it said any extension of the CA should be short and accompanied by a non-negotiable timeline and at least a partial draft of the constitution for the public to see.

“Visible progress is needed to reassure the fractured polity and public that the task of transforming the state has not been abandoned,” said the ICG’s senior analyst Anagha Neelakantan.

Journalist and political commentator Prashant Jha said there were good reasons for the public anger, but warned that cynicism about the political process could be counterproductive.

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“The promise of a better future has not taken shape and 500 to 1,000 people are leaving the country every day,” he said.

“The political class had promised that the country would move into a peaceful, stable federal democratic republic, and that has still not happened.

“We have to keep challenging the politicians, but at the same time, it’s crucial that the anti-politician, anti-party mood does not turn into an anti-democracy mood.”

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