The formal announcement on Tuesday of the 12-point memorandum of understanding between the Maoists and the seven-party pro-democracy alliance promises to mark the first major step towards the resolution of the 10-year-old insurgency as well as of the current political and constitutional stalemate. This is a historic development in that the two principal domestic political forces have agreed on a common agenda for a fundamental issue, after a long period of enmity and differences, as the bottom line for the political solution of the crisis. The Maoists and the parties have now put the ball in the royal court, the third key force in Nepali politics. It would therefore depend on the government’s response which course the country might take—one of further and more dangerous confrontation or of reconciliation.

Tuesday’s announcement probably puts an end to the efforts to reconcile the palace and the political parties in order to isolate the Maoists. In a way, the establishment has forced these two political forces to come closer. Its rigid stance set off a chain of political events and gave rise to a flurry of political consultations, at home and abroad, which seem now to be epitomised in this understanding, probably with the tacit support of democratic nations important to Nepal. The details of the understanding include a commitment to accept the outcome of the constituent assembly, to ensure free and fair elections, to put both the government and Maoist armies under international supervision for the polls, as well as embracing the basic features of a multiparty democracy, such as respect for the rule of law, human rights, and press freedom. Both sides also agreed to ‘actively boycott and foil’ the forthcoming civic polls.

As for the fate of the monarchy, the Maoists and the political parties seem to keep open the possibility of a ‘ceremonial’ monarchy as their agreement mentions only ‘establishing a total democracy by ending autocratic monarchy’; it does not talk of rooting out the monarchy itself (or in other words, of establishing a republic). The establishment faces tough choices. If it still decides to continue on a collision course, it will run the big risk of further international isolation and of losing much of whatever support it may have at home. As the government’s ‘terrorism card’ has largely failed to take the international community with it, its refusal to take in the right spirit the proposal for constituent assembly as the meeting point of all Nepalis is likely to project it as the major stumbling block to peace and democracy at home and abroad. Then the government would lose its raison d’etre. It seems the trend towards constituent assembly is now more or less irreversible.