from The Economist..
June 22, 2013 | KATHMANDU |From the print edition
THE streets of Nepal’s sprawling capital are choked with traffic and diesel fumes. The worst are lined with half-smashed houses and rubble—a legacy not of war but of a half-finished road-widening scheme. Well-meant but stalled, it has made getting around Kathmandu more awkward. Under monsoon rains, muddy swamps jam the traffic even tighter.
In a similar state is the half-done political reform in Nepal, whose nearly 30m people are wedged between India and China. A four-year effort to write a new constitution ended last May with the “collective failure” of the country’s politicians, admits Baburam Bhattarai, who was then prime minister. Nepal limps on with ad hoc rule by Khil Raj Regmi, seconded from his day job as chief justice. He has just called an election for a new constituent assembly, on November 19th.
A leader with the oomph of a “dishrag”, says a local observer, Mr Regmi shapes little. Instead a quartet of political parties mostly decides Nepal’s future.
One is a group from the Terai, Nepal’s populous, lowland part bordering India. The second, more important, group is the Maoists, who gave up revolutionary war in 2006 and in 2008 romped to surprising electoral victory (or at least won more seats than any other party).
Their most diehard supporters resist more concessions to upstart Maoists, lowlanders and the like. Nepal has already switched from Hindu kingdom to secular, democratic republic, with partial use of proportional representation for elections. They hope to scotch or at least defer the next big reform—a shift to federalism.
That means delaying efforts to write the new constitution. Possibly outsiders would sympathise. China, remarkably, has made known its opposition to ethnic-based federalism in Nepal, fretting that Tibetans, just over the border, might get similarly uppity ideas. Yet both China and India talk mostly about promoting stability in Nepal; India is especially anxious that elections go ahead on time.
It will not dictate what sort of federalism follows, though India wants the Terai politically stronger, giving it more influence over the hill capital. Nor will the process be smooth. But as Mr Bhattarai says: “we are in a transitional phase; our new democratic system is being institutionalised.” He has a stake in that, and in Kathmandu’s traffic, where he personally got the road-widening scheme started. He wants to finish the job.