Middle ground

Foreign diplomats and international organisations such as the UN have called for setting a new date for the constituent assembly (CA) election, which, already rescheduled for November 22, was deferred indefinitely because of the lack of agreement between the Nepali Congress and the CPN-Maoist over the latter’s demands, particularly over a straight declaration of a republic and adoption of an electoral system based entirely on proportional representation. The Maoists caused the special session of the parliament to be convened to discuss and decide their two demands, but as the disputants could not find common ground for agreement, the seven parties, to give themselves more time to search for a solution, had a 12-day recess declared for the Dashain holidays. The session resumes today, but as of now, the parties do not appear to have come closer to a solution. However, most political leaders believe that a settlement should be arrived at through dialogue. Koirala, for example, holds the view, as expressed at the Dashain tea party held by the CPN-UML on Saturday, that the CA polls should now be held by the second week of March; for his part, CPN-UML general secretary Madhav Kumar Nepal also favours holding the election within the current Nepali year.

But who is against this idea? Even CPN-M chairman Prachanda has been expressing a similar view. Only the disagreement over the two issues has held back the momentum of the peace process. The circumstances have made it difficult for any of the disputants to surrender completely after it has stood its ground so far. This reality stresses the need for finding a common formula which may also save the face of each. But intransigence is unlikely to break the deadlock. Koirala said he believed the Maoists would not start an agitation over their demands. The common people would feel relieved if he proved right. But even so, that would not guarantee the resolution of the crisis. The main concern is whether the transition is completed successfully. The CA election is a vital part of the peace process.

Some people are stressing the setting of a fresh election date. But that would be meaningless until the political differences were ironed out. So, the emphasis should be on mutual accommodation over the points of disagreement. On the occasion, Koirala also said that he was committed to retaining the unity of the seven parties. Indeed, united they stand, and divided they stand to lose, probably dragging the country and people with them too. Koirala’s remarks provide some hope for good news coming out in the end. But disagreement means putting the issues to a parliamentary vote, and that could make matters worse. Instead of guaranteeing the CA election, a split vote may make it even more uncertain. That is arguably not what any of the seven parties would want. Some people are also arguing that the Maoists could, after the defeat of their motions in the parliament, accept the earlier agreement and take their agenda to the people afresh in election campaigning. But, will they? The best solution, however, would appear to lie in finding a middle ground between the two extremes.