Nepal adopts new constitution amid protests

The new charter came into force after a deadly earthquake in April prompted rival political parties to end years of bitter disagreement.

Former Maoist rebel caders in Nepal shout anti government slogan against the adopting of a new constitution in Kathmandu, Nepal on September 19, 2015. Narendra Shrestha/EPA
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KATHMANDU // Nepal on Sunday adopted a new constitution aimed at bolstering its transformation from a Hindu monarchy to a secular federal democracy, as violent protests in the south against the controversial charter killed one person.

“I announce the presented constitution of Nepal, passed by the constituent assembly and authenticated by the chairman of the constituent assembly, effective from today, 20 September 2015, before the people of Nepal,” said president Ram Baran Yadav at a ceremony in parliament.

The new charter, aimed at cementing Nepal’s transformation from Hindu monarchy to secular democracy, came into force after a deadly earthquake in April prompted rival political parties to end years of bitter disagreement.

Thousands of officers guarded the streets and checked passengers on motorways, said police official Kamal Singh Bam. Police responded to reports of bombs being found in Kathmandu. They all were hoaxes.

Schools and offices were closed as Sunday and Monday were declared public holidays to celebrate the constitution, Nepal’s first complete political framework since monarchy was abolished in 2006.

Politicians adopted the bill on Wednesday despite weeks of violent protests in which more than 40 people died, among them two children and a police officer who was lynched.

The new constitution will divide the country of 28 million people into seven federal provinces, a move aimed at devolving power but which some marginalised groups said will leave them under-represented in parliament.

They include the Madhesi and Tharu ethnic minorities who mainly inhabit Nepal’s southern plains, along the border with India.

Authorities in the southern district of Parsa said police opened fire on a crowd of demonstrators on Sunday after thousands of Madhesi demonstrators defied a curfew.

“One person was killed when the police were forced to fire after thousands came out in the street defying the curfew,” Parsa’s chief district officer Kesheb Raj Ghimire said.

“They attacked with stones and glass bottles. Some of the security forces have been injured as well as the demonstrators. The situation here is tense.”

The situation was relatively calm in Kathmandu although there were a handful of protests by political groups opposed to the constitution.

There was a heavy police presence across the capital ahead of a ceremony in parliament where the president formally promulgated the constitution.

It is the first to be drafted by democratically elected representatives of Nepal’s people and follows a decade-long Maoist insurgency aimed at abolishing an autocratic monarchy and creating a more equal society.

Constitutional experts say it includes some progressive measures including provisions for improving the involvement of low-caste groups, women and minorities in national politics.

But there has been strong opposition from some quarters, including Hindu groups who do not believe Nepal should be a secular state.

Rights groups say it discriminates against women by making it more difficult for them to pass on their citizenship to their children than it is for men.

Nonetheless, many in the capital welcomed the new constitution’s introduction.

“We have waited for this for so long. I am happy today, but there is also a sense of sadness because we have seen so much violence in the last weeks,” said finance worker Nabina Ranjit, 27.

“I wish everyone would be celebrating today, but unfortunately, the leaders have failed to address grievances of all Nepalis.”

* Agence France-Presse and Associated Press