April 1, 2017 12:53 AM NPT
Two sides agree to meet again Sunday after PM promises 'concrete draft'
KATHMANDU, March 31: A meeting between ruling coalition partners and United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF) ended fruitless on Friday after Nepali Congress turned down the Madhes-based parties' proposal to increase the number of local units in the tarai.
The largest party in parliament also rejected other key demands put forth by the UDMF, including the formation of a federal commission to end the row over boundaries, and passage of the constitution amendment bill, which is currently in parliament.
The two sides, however, agreed to meet again on Sunday after Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal pledged to come up with a "concrete proposal" after holding cross-party consultations.
Friday's development comes as a big blow to the Madhes-based parties which were "expecting to hammer out a deal even without an agreement on federal boundaries".
In the meeting held at the prime minister's residence in Baluwatar, NC leaders categorically ruled out any possibility of immediate increase in the number of local units. NC leaders were also critical of the UDMF proposal to end the dispute over federal boundaries through a federal commission.
"It is not possible to increase the number of local bodies now. But it can be increased after the elections," a leader present at the meeting quoted senior NC leader Ram Chandra Paudel as saying.
Other Congress leaders, including Krishna Prasad Sitaula and Ramesh Lekhak, asked the Madhes-based parties to take part in the elections without any preconditions.
Lekhak urged the Madhesi leaders 'not to put the constitution amendment and local polls in the same bucket'. He said his party was in favor of resolving the disputed issues simultaneously without hindering the poll process.
Talking separately to Republica, Lekhak, who is also the minister for transportation, said he was hopeful of a breakthrough. "Prime Minister Dahal has sought two days for informal discussions with cross-party leaders to come up with a concrete draft. We are counting on his proposal for consensus," he said.
During the meeting, Madhesi leaders expressed readiness to put issues related to federal boundaries on hold, but insisted that other demands should be addressed before the polls. They especially stressed the need for increasing the number of local bodies in Madhes on the basis of the population size.
Stating that the Congress stances have taken a "dramatic turn", the Madhesi leaders criticized NC leaders for backtracking on their earlier commitment on amendment and local bodies.
In previous meetings, NC had pledged to address the concerns of Madhesi parties before going to the polls.
"We have clearly told them (the NC leaders) that the UDMF cannot take part in the polls under the existing circumstances. If they want us to come onboard, they should address our legitimate concerns," Sadbhavana Party Chairman Rajendra Mahato told Republica.