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Nepal Maoists want "unconditional" elections

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Nepali Congress president Girija Prasad Koirala (centre) consults party members after the seven main opposition political parties declared him Prime Ministerial candidate.
Nepali Congress president Girija Prasad Koirala (centre) consults party members after the seven main opposition political parties declared him Prime Ministerial candidate.

Siddharth Varadarajan

They denounce the King's revival of Parliament; SPA accused of betraying the people's movement by walking into the monarchy's trap

KATHMANDU: Even as jubilant crowds took to the streets here on Tuesday, a day after King Gyanendra's climbdown in which he agreed to reinstate Parliament, the message to political leaders was loud and clear: Constitute a constituent assembly and do not deviate from the aims of the pro-democracy movement.

At an impromptu roadside meeting in Vasundhara, not far from the residence of Nepali Congress leader Girija Prasad Koirala, one speaker declared: "If Girija babu does something funny, we will hang him." The crowd around him cheered lustily.

The Seven Party Alliance (SPA), spearheading the anti-monarchy protests, issued a statement welcoming the King's latest proclamation and declaring that Mr. Koirala would be their candidate for Prime Minister.

"Restoration of the House of Representatives is only the beginning for us," the SPA declared, conscious of the mood on the streets. The parties also expressed their commitment to abide by the 12-point agreement reached with Maoists last November.

For the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), which has formed a partnership of sorts with the SPA since November last, these assurances are clearly not enough. In a toughly worded statement issued in the name of party leaders Prachanda and Baburam Bhattarai, the Maoists denounced the King's revival of Parliament and accused the SPA of betraying the people's movement by walking into the monarchy's trap.

"Continue agitation"

They called on the people to continue their peaceful agitation until "unconditional" elections to a constituent assembly were announced.

"The SPA's unilateral support for the revival of Parliament, without consulting the Maoists, in effect tried to break the spirit behind the 12-point agreement. Why should people believe that Parliament, which has come as a gift from the King, would have the resolve to hold unconditional elections to the constituent assembly?''

Despite the tough language of the Maoists' statement, independent analysts do not consider the gap between the Maoists and the parties to be insurmountable.

Devendra Nath Pandey, former Finance Minister and leading civil society campaigner for democracy who was released on Tuesday after months of incarceration, told The Hindu that the Maoist rejection appeared tactical. "The 12-point agreement had envisaged the reinstatement of Parliament. Though the Maoists had some reservations about it, they endorsed the overall agreement," he said. "I think the Maoist reaction [to the SPA's acceptance of the restoration of Parliament] may be tactical. They can't be seen as welcoming anything the King says. And they had never really been in favour of reinstatement of Parliament. But as long as parties move forward on the constituent assembly, the Maoists will come on board."

Acknowledging that there were procedural and methodological issues involved in an election to a constituent assembly which could not be resolved very quickly, Dr. Pandey stressed that once Parliament convened "it should not get bogged down in business as usual." Going for a constituent assembly has to be the first agenda item and since the Maoists have to be with them on this, negotiations with the Maoists have to begin almost immediately, he said.

Things going well

While it was legitimate for people to be suspicious of the parties, given their record, Dr. Pandey said they behaved very responsibly these past few weeks.

"The parties stood up to the King, to India and to the donor countries. This is very refreshing. Even on choosing a prime ministerial candidate, there wasn't the usual wrangling. Things are going well so far."

Senior diplomats also seemed convinced that the new all-party government's top priority had to be a dialogue with the Maoists structured around the goal of a constituent assembly.

"For this to happen, of course, there would need to be a two-way ceasefire, as well as the removal of the "terrorist" tag from the Maoists and the repeal of certain laws," a diplomat said.

Realistically speaking, say analysts, given the harvest and monsoon seasons as well as the festival of Dasein, the earliest that any elections can be held is November.

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