Prime Minister Surya Bahadur Thapa said at a gathering of RPP workers on Saturday that the government would hold general elections in October-November this year, indicating the announcement of a poll date after “fulfilling some constitutional processes.” To stress his point, he added that neither the Maobadi nor the Khaobadi would be able to obstruct the polls. During the last nine months he has been at Singhadurbar, Thapa has been reiterating that the elections would be held and power transferred to elected representatives, first the local elections and then the parliamentary ones. Though official comment has yet to come on Thapa’s latest informal announcement, in the past the five agitating political parties, including the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML, had declared that elections were not possible given the security situation, ruling out their participation even if the government announced them.

But once, nearly four months ago in Biratnagar, Nepali Congress president had remarked that though elections were impossible, the political parties should not shy away from participating — a remark he had repeated a few days later at a tea

party organised by the CPN-UML, inviting criticism from within and outside his own party, particularly from the leaders of the four other parties. The political parties have often described the government’s promise of elections as a “ploy to prolong its stay in power.” Without the participation, at least the support, of the political parties, elections do not look likely. At best, the government could decide to hold the polls in several phases. Thapa is to start a new round of consultation with leaders of the parties about the polls.

But there are big obstacles. If the political parties refused to participate in the polls to be conducted by a government which they have refused even to recognise, the polls would lack legitimacy. From the start, the parties have taken the position that only an all-party government formed with their approval should hold the elections. Furthermore, even if they wanted to participate, it would be difficult for them to be reassured about the polls being free and fair, all the more so because of Thapa’s reputation for manipulating the elections, for example, the May 1980 referendum. The third, but not the least, important factor, is the Maoists’ attitude. It would be a wonder if they did not do their utmost to disrupt the polls. And voters, especially in the rural areas, would, naturally, prefer to stay at home, ensuring a very low turnout. No doubt, election is the best way of restoring a constitutional and legitimate government. But unless those in power do not want to form an all-party government acceptable to the major parties, things will not be that smooth.