By Gopal Sharma
KATHMANDU, May 28 (Reuters) - Nepal's parliament is due to vote on Friday on a government proposal to extend the deadline of a special Constituent Assembly giving the Himalayan republic more time to draft a new constitution.
The assembly, elected in 2008 to prepare a new constitution, a key demand of the Maoist former rebels who ended their civil war under a 2006 peace deal, is due to expire at mid-night on Friday. [ID:nSGE64B0KQ]
Below are some questions and answers about the vote and what the risks are to the country's fragile peace process:
WHO ARE KEY PLAYERS IN THE VOTE ?
The Maoists, who hold 40 percent of the 601-seat assembly that also doubles as parliament, hold the key to the passage of the proposal to extend the deadline. Members from the coalition government lack the required two-thirds majority to extend the term. Maoists say they will support the extension only if Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal quits to pave the way for a unity government headed by them. The prime minister refuses to do so.
HOW WAS THE CRISIS CAUSED?
Nepal is currently governed under an interim constitution.
The Constituent Assembly failed to prepare the new draft by the deadline because of squabbles and deep mistrust between the Maoists and the main political parties.
The Maoists say parties propping up the coalition government are reluctant to introduce a federal system and give rights to traditionally marginalised and minority groups, pet Maoist issues. The government says the former rebels are not committed to democracy and are unwilling to dismantle camps still housing 19,000 Maoist former fighters.
IS THERE A RISK OF A RETURN TO CONFLICT?
The Maoists and political parties are under tremendous public pressure to extend the deadline that will immediately ease tension and revive hopes for the imperiled peace process.
The Maoists say they will not return to the jungles even if the efforts fail, but would organise street protests to press for their demand for a unity government.
This could lead to prolonged periods of shutdown of the capital Kathmandu. Failure to renew the term could produce political confrontation and effectively take Nepal to a ceasefire-like situation, but a return to full scale war is highly unlikely.
HAS ANY PROGRESS BEEN MADE AT ALL?
Politicians say 70 to 80 percent of the work on preparaing the constitution is over. But political parties are still deeply divided over key issues such as whether to adopt a presidential or British-type parliamentary system and over the control of the judiciary.
They must also resolve the issue of rehabilitating the Maoist former fighters who now remain in U.N.-monitored camps. The Maoist combatants must be integrated, as demanded by the former rebels, or rehabilitated, which is key to the stability of a nation tucked between Asian giants China and India. (Editing by Krittivas Mukherjee and Ron Popeski)