Finally – a new constitution for Nepal?

Nepal’s Constituent Assembly began voting on a draft of the Himalayan nation’s much-delayed new constitution on Sunday despite protests from ethnic minority groups.

The constitution has been delayed by years of disagreements between the main political parties, and the voting on the draft is seen as major progress. The three main parties finally reached agreement this year, enabling the process to move on after years of stalemate.

Nepal has had an interim constitution since pro-democracy protests forced then-King Gyanendra to give up authoritarian rule and turn the country into a republic. A Constituent Assembly elected in 2008 failed to draft a new charter, and another assembly was elected in 2013.

Speaker Subash Nemwang commenced the voting Sunday on the draft and amendment proposals sought by assembly members.

The voting, which is expected to take at least a day or two, was boycotted by the smaller opposition parties, but they make up only 9 percent of the assembly.

The three major parties are determined to get the constitution passed this week, and had invited protesting parties and groups for weekend talks. One group met with Prime Minister Sushil Koirala, but no agreement was reached.

The new constitution proposes to split Nepal into seven federal provinces. Some ethnic groups disagree with the makeup, border and size of the provinces.

There have been weeks of protests against the draft in southern Nepal, some of which have turned violent, with at least 40 people killed in clashes between protesters and security forces. Authorities have imposed curfews in several southern towns.

In Kathmandu, the capital, about 500 protesters gathered outside the assembly hall on Sunday, demanding the voting process be stopped. The protesters also accused government security forces of using excessive force against the protests in the south.

Security was heightened around Kathmandu, with hundreds of riot police officers guarding the assembly hall.

Protests were expected to continue in Kathmandu on Monday.

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