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Political conference provides the best hope

The government has not clearly put forward its position on constituent assembly and mediation

Vijaya Chalise

As the deadline for talks with the Maoists expired on January 13, people are wondering what course Nepali politics would take now? It is said the deadline was set by Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba after knowing from different sources that the King was thinking of an alternative to him. The government had set the deadline on Novemver 25, a week after the King had dinner with Deuba, who has the Royal mandate of initiating the polls by mid-April. Things are likely to get worse because of the deadline. The government has ignored the fact that its earlier talks with the rebels had broken down over differences on the King’s role in any future arrangement. Regarding the present political power equations, the Maoists’ thesis is that there exist two armies within the country but three major political forces — monarchy, Maoists and parties — and that there will be no political solution if one of the forces is left out.

Critics were saying from the very beginning that the deadline was nothing more than a ploy to prolong the tenure as Deuba did not take any initiative to lift the terrorist tag and the red corner notice and declare ceasefire. It is believed that Deuba knows that polls cannot be held in the present circumstances. Bhim Rawal of the CPN-UML, a member of a sub-committee under the High-level Peace Committee, has said that no proper homework had been done before setting the deadline. The criticism is obvious, because, if the government was serious about dialogue, it would have taken some confidence building measures. The government has not clearly put forward its formal opinion whether it could discuss constituent assembly and UN or other third party mediation, the main conditions of the Maoists.

Deuba may be thinking that holding elections is the only way to give continuity to his government. The meeting of the Council of Ministers recently decided to keep the door for talks open. Minister of Information and Communication and the spokesperson for the government, Dr Mohammad Mohsin, says the government would now declare the date for election by the end of this month after consultations among the leaders of the coalition partners and HPC members, as the government, according to him, does not have much time to waste. However, a meeting of the top leaders of the ruling coalition failed to arrive at any decision on whether to announce elections immediately, or to continue efforts for peace talks.

Although the deadline expired, the largest constituent in the coalition, the CPN-UML, has been pressing for continued peace efforts. Its standing committee meeting concluded that the election in the present situation was not possible and that restoration of peace was the first priority of the country. Indeed, no one can deny that elections are the only instrument of putting back on track the derailed constitutional process. But the agitating four parties are against the polls and the insurgents have threatened to sabotage the elections.

The people are hoping that the monarchy, the parties and the civic society succeed in forging a consensus to safeguard the national integrity and democracy as well as resolve issues

related to the people’s living. To take the peace initiative to its logical conclusion, every possible means should be adopted towards making talks successful and ending the present crisis. A broader understanding between the palace and the parties is the need of the hour to deal with the Maoists who are ready for a dialogue, subject to the above-mentioned conditions. Involvement of the parties in the peace process will ensure peace and they must proceed with a common agenda.

However, while holding consultations with all the parties on the issue of the restoration of the Lower House, unconfirmed reports say that the CPN-UML general secretary Madhav Nepal has forwarded a proposal that all parties should agree that the Deuba government will continue after the reinstatement of the parliament. Newly-appointed Chief justice Hari Prasad Sharma, after taking oath of office, said, however, that there is no ground for reinstating the dissolved House. He opined that the reinstatement call was provoked by political agenda rather than constitutional issue and the court could not interfere in the issue. It indicates that there is little possibility of the Supreme Court giving priority to the review writ petition to reinstate the House. Though all the parties are coming closer to taking a decision of House revival, there is no clear vision as to what should be done after the restoration. Could the restored House remove the differences among the palace, the Maoists and the parties? Therefore, holding a broad-based political conference and forming a government with national consensus seems to be the only solution.

The polls announced in 2002 were postponed due to the Maoists escalating violence. As the security situation has deteriorated in the meantime, it could well be argued that the Deuba government would be unable to hold the polls now. The present critical state calls for an understanding between all the three major political forces of the country to chart a road map acceptable to all. A broad-based political conference and a national unity government promise to provide a better solution than either the idea of elections or the restoration of the parliament given the present circumstances.

Chalise is executive editor, Gorkhapatra daily