Two days of the second summit between the CPN-Maoist and the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) have failed to come up with any agreement on substantive political issues. However, the summit has put the cart before the horse by announcing, after Tuesday’s meeting, that the constituent assembly (CA) elections would be held by mid-June next year and that the yet-to-be-formed interim government would set a poll date. To ensure electoral preparations, the two sides have agreed to appoint the top vacancies at the Election Commission by October 17. Both the talks teams have been asked to expand areas of agreement on the modalities for arms management and other key political issues by today, when the summit resumes for the third day. According to the coordinator of the government talks team, Krishna Prasad Sitaula, the two sides “have now ideologically come closer to each other on many issues”; however, Maoist talks team coordinator Krishna Bahadur Mahara said, “We are not taking the right decisions at the right time”.

No agreement on arms management and the monarchy constitute the biggest roadblocks. With these and other issues yet to be settled, many may question the wisdom of fixing the month for the CA polls. Perhaps the two sides are confident that they will sort out all issues in a matter of days. There may be yet another reason: that this device will put more pressure for early resolution of the outstanding issues. There might be an element of truth in it, but it cannot save the day. It may have come also by way of a sop to the people who are eagerly expecting much more. Although it may not be wise to predict a breakthrough in today’s talks, the Maoists may — just may — cede more ground on the arms issue if the SPA agrees to push for a republic. Prachanda has said that if the NC jettisons ‘ceremonial monarchy’, every other issue “can be settled within half an hour”.

The Congress may have its own compulsions, but it is opposed even to the idea of holding a referendum on the monarchy, an idea the CPN-UML stresses. The Congress has every right to campaign for or against the monarchy during the CA polls, but it should not be seen to be hindering the talks because of questions such as the interim status for the monarchy — which could have been in some sort of suspended animation. While the sovereign people are going to deliver their supreme verdict, nitpicking at this stage may appear to be an obstructionist ploy. The main purpose of arms management is to prevent both the state and the Maoists from using their weapons to influence the outcome of the CA polls. This has been broadly taken care of by the three agreements the two sides have signed, and the UN team is stationed in the capital just for that purpose. Logically speaking, this should not create much of a problem. But the facts tell a different story. If the leaders of both sides rise to the occasion, demonstrating a high degree of statesmanship and responsibility, it should not be impossible to give the people a surprise Tihar gift that will be cherished for a long, long time to come.