After three months of bitter polarisation, Nepal’s political forces have once again resumed negotiations to find a way out of the current political deadlock. On Wednesday morning, three major parties – the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), Nepali Congress (NC), and Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist) – met and agreed to intensify their dialogue to find an agreement.
Since the Constituent Assembly (CA)’s term expired on May 27, and the Maoist-led government announced elections for a new CA, the opposition parties have been demanding Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai’s immediate resignation as a precondition to talks. The ruling Maoist-Madhesi alliance has insisted that resignation can only happen as a part of a broader package deal, which includes determining a future political roadmap. While the stalemate on substantive issues remains, inter-party dialogue has resumed in a bid to find an agreement.
The three-party meeting decided to delegate the responsibility of arriving at a deal to the top leaders. NC negotiator Minendra Rijal, who attended the talks, told The Hindu, “We decided that for the next five to seven days, talks will focus on finding a settlement on constitutional issues. If that happens, we can reinstate the CA and promulgate the statute. If we are convinced that there can be no agreement on constitution, then we will reach a deal on fresh elections.” He added that his party was open to both options.
When asked if the resumption of negotiations indicated a change in NC’s position that the PM had to resign first, Dr Rijal said, “Our stand on the PM has not changed. But we will get to that point through talks. The resignation will have to be a part of any deal.” He said that the talks were a result of ‘back-channel efforts’ and a ‘positive environment’ had now been created. “But nothing has been agreed upon so far.”
Khimlal Devkota, a Maoist leader and close aide to the PM, claimed that the opposition had run out of options. “They kept prodding the president to do something but the constitution does not allow it. Their attempts to organize a street movement against the government failed. The constitutional position is such that there is no basis to form an alternative government either.”
Sources suggest that the formation of a Federal Democratic Republican Alliance (FDRA) by the Maoists and Madhesi parties had also put pressure on the opposition parties, and made them flexible. “NC and UML seem to have realised that allowing Maoists, Madhesis and ethnic groups to come under one platform and claim the federal mantle will be politically disastrous. Not talking at all was not helping,” said a highly-placed diplomat, who is following events closely.
The government also realised that it could not unilaterally move ahead, and in an address to the nation on Tuesday, the PM said that political consensus was necessary. Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ has been active in initiating dialogue between parties.
Increasing public frustration with the entire political class, as well as a pressure campaign by younger politicians, is also understood to have played a role in forcing top leaders to talk.
Wednesday’s talks come soon after the all-party Special Committee (SC) for Supervision, Integration and Rehabilitation of Maoist combatants resolved the remaining contentious issues of integration. Disputes over age and educational qualifications had stalled the process of selection of 3100 remaining combatants in cantonments into the Nepal Army (NA).
The SC decided that the age of the combatants as given in their citizenship certificate would be the basis for selection. This was as per the demands of the combatants. On education, the opposition’s stance that there would be no further concessions, beyond what was agreed upon earlier, was accepted. The impact of the decision will be known on September 6, when the integration process is scheduled to recommence.
While the talks have been termed ‘encouraging’, those involved caution that this is merely the first step. If there has to be an understanding on constitution, the thorny issue of federalism will
have to be decided. Otherwise, negotiators will have to focus on agreeing on a new election date, election system, and the composition and leadership of the government which will hold polls. The Maoist negotiator, Mr Devkota, said, “This is a good beginning but the road a head is not easy. Lots of issues remain to be resolved.”