No getting away

Though the date for the elections to the constituent assembly (CA) is just 72 days away, the public, and probably the authorities concerned, do not yet seem to be fully assured that the polls will take place on November 22. Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala has been reiterating his commitment that the poll date can no longer be extended; foreign diplomats have been stressing the need to hold the polls on schedule; the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC), Bhojraj Pokhrel, continues to remind the political parties to get into the spirit of the elections, as he finds them lacking the electoral fervour; and Maoist chairman Prachanda is saying that the atmosphere for the elections has not built up as yet. The government has already signed a deal with two of the agitating groups – a Janajati group and the Madhesi Janaadhikar Forum (MJF)— and both of them have suspended their protest programmes, expressing their full commitment to the elections. On the other hand, more groups are still in a state of agitation.

The agreement with the government caused a split in the MJF, and the dissident faction has already started organising bandhs and strikes in several districts of the Tarai. Similarly, an umbrella group bringing together the agitators for Khumbuwan, Limbuwan and Tamangsaling recently suspended talks with the government terming them “irrelevant”. There are other groups of agitators pushing their own sets of demands. The government will do well to review the way it has been approaching the problems of these groups in a piecemeal manner. Unless they can also be brought into the election mode, the CA polls may not have smooth sailing. Of crucial importance, too, is the 22-point roster of Maoist demands aimed at “creating the right conditions for the CA elections”. The CPN-Maoist has given the government until September 17 to address their demands or they have threatened to launch a “massive people’s movement”.

Some people term the Maoist threat a bargaining chip, others view it as reflective of the Maoist lack of confidence in winning the elections. But the Maoists say they are sincere and serious about their demands, and that they cannot think of running away from the polls because CA was their agenda, and the other parties were only later converts. Whatever the truth, these problems will have to be faced because they cannot be wished away, and because the delay in doing so could affect the election schedule. Sadly, the eight-party meetings have not taken place frequently enough. This would allow problems to accumulate and the situation become worse or possibly even go out of hand. Without the eight-party meeting, how could the reasonableness or otherwise of the Maoist demands be discussed and the differences sorted out? Frequent meetings are also necessary to build up the election mood in the country, address other agitators’ demands and remove the remaining obstacles to the elections. Consultations and discussions are required to realise Koirala’s election commitment. Shifting the blame on each other later on would be no use.