Nepalese lawmakers trying to avert a political crisis planned to debate a government proposal to extend the term of the country's only functioning legislature Friday, hours before it was set to expire.
The two-year term of the Constituent Assembly was set to end by Saturday. The assembly was meant to draft a new constitution to help guide Nepal out of years of civil war and upheaval, but has achieved little due to political bickering.
Both the assembly and Nepal's interim constitution were set to expire at midnight, and it was unclear what would happen after that, though a state of emergency may be declared and presidential rule imposed.
The government proposal to extend the assembly's term must be approved by two-thirds of the lawmakers. But the main opposition Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), which has the most seats in the assembly, has refused to support the government unless it disbands and allows the former communist rebels to lead a new coalition administration. No single party has a majority in the assembly.
Most of the legislature's members arrived at the assembly hall for the debate that was to begin early Friday, but the deliberations were delayed. Officials did not give a reason for the delay.
Earlier this month, the Maoists mounted a general strike that shut down Nepal for a week, and they have threatened to launch more protests. Analysts fear that failure to reach a political resolution could lead to violent conflict.
The Maoists ended their decade-old rebellion in 2006 and joined a peace process. Since then they have confined their fighters to U.N.-monitored camps and joined mainstream politics.
They won 2008 elections and formed a government, but it later fell in a dispute with the nation's president over the Maoists' attempt to replace the army chief.
The United Nations, which played a key role in the peace process, has expressed concern over the political situation in Nepal.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on "party leaders to regain their unity of purpose in order to preserve the assembly and the peace process. Now is the time to put national interest first," U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said Thursday at U.N. headquarters in New York.