With the Maoists in Nepal deciding not to extend their four-month ceasefire, the country is set for an intensification of the political crisis that began nearly a year ago with King Gyanendra's reactionary coup. Were the monarch a well-intentioned ruler, as he regularly claims to be, he would have surely seen the ceasefire as an opportunity to start exploring a peaceful, political route to the restoration of Nepal's multi-party democracy. Instead he deliberately ignored the truce and spent money buying arms for the Royal Nepal Army. The Maoists first declared the ceasefire on September 3 for three months, and then extended it by one more month. The truce also saw the seven-party democratic alliance and the Maoists agree on an agenda to establish "total democracy" through elections to a constituent assembly for framing a new Constitution. For the first time, the Maoists committed themselves to democracy, and the political parties agreed to the Maoist demand for the rewriting of the Constitution, which has the potential of ending the monarchy and even the constitutional regime Nepal has had since 1990. This was a significant victory for Nepal's democratic forces against King Gyanendra. The outplayed King believes the best way of tightening his grip is to return to violence. It also seems to be his calculation that the political parties will find it difficult to sustain their newly formed friendship with the Maoists once they resume insurgency.

It can only be hoped that the Maoists will not play into King Gyanendra's hands. During the truce, Nepal's countryside saw a period of peace and tranquillity unprecedented in a decade. Across the country, there is a yearning for this to continue but the indications are to the contrary. In a statement, Maoist leader Prachanda declared that henceforth his party's actions would be directed "against the royal government only." But violence has a way of engulfing everything in its path, and the Maoists cannot guarantee that the violence, once begun, will remain confined to specific targets. A confrontation seems imminent at the municipal elections to be held from January 26. The pro-democracy political parties have rightly decided to boycott the elections, which they describe as a ploy by the monarch to try and convince the world that he is genuine about restoring democracy. The only candidates in this election are those from royalist parties. Late last month, a statement from the Maoist leadership warned of "special action" against the contestants. Over the past four months, the Maoists won respect from the people of Nepal and the international community for their maturity in announcing the truce and making common cause with the political parties - actions that helped isolate King Gyanendra. They must do nothing now that will help him claim legitimacy for his crassly unconstitutional rule.