Political courage

Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba has made pledges similar to those by his immediate predecessor Surya Bahadur Thapa. Addressing a press conference in the capital on Saturday, he ruled out the restoration of the House of Representatives, a condition forwarded by Congress president Girija Prasad Koirala for the government to win his party’s support. Deuba has instead placed stress on holding the parliamentary elections which, he promised, would be started around April next year. He has said he will not prove himself “incompetent” again. He also spoke highly of India’s promises of cooperation to help Nepal cope with the present crisis. The Maoists have also been called upon to come forward “with honesty and sincerity” for a dialogue. Speaking elsewhere the same day, the Prime Minister again rejected the idea of constituent assembly, the central demand of the Maoists. But he has expressed his “readiness” to negotiate anything other than this because he has “become Prime Minister under this Constitution.”

It is too much to expect a Premier, who could not get himself reinstated, to have the parliament restored. Complex legal and constitutional issues are involved. So the Congress would do well to reveiw its position on the restoration issue. India, which plays an influential role in Nepali politics, favours elections and has offered to provide all necessary help. Indeed, polls are the only way to revive the Constitution. Besides, the question of regression and political confrontation between the palace and the political parties will disappear once the polls are held and a new House installed. The main question, however, is whether free and fair voting is possible amidst the Maoist insurgency.

The Congress regards the Deuba government as a perpetuation of “regression” and, at least two other agitating parties are likely to take the same line. As for the CPN-UML, its decision may arrive within a couple of days. Most central members, however, appear to be in favour, at least, of lending conditional support. The Maoist response to Deuba’s call will determine, to a large extent, the course of the current conflict. His rejection of constituent assembly and his not so enthusiastic response to the suggestion of using the UN’s good offices may constitute impediments to peace. For a political settlement, the establishment must come forward with a bold new initiative and this requires a high degree of political courage. The Maoist issue cannot be resolved within the present legal framework. First of all, Deuba should prove that he exercises the executive authority under Article 35 fully, for the good of society and the masses. If he can deliver, it will be well and good; if not, he will have to go. The challenges are easier taken than met.