Same time, last year

Contrary to expectations in some quarters of some dramatic new move, King Gyanendra in his address to the nation yesterday gave a message, loud and clear, that he is determined to continue on the road map he had laid out on February 1 last year. Instead of rethinking the February 8 civic polls in view of the shortage of candidates and the likely low voter turnout triggered by the active boycott by the political parties and the Maoists, the King urged the people to vote in large numbers, reiterating his promise that by April next year the parliamentary polls will also be held. On the occasion of the completion of one year of his stewardship of the Council of Ministers, the King repeated his government’s policy and programmes and defended his direct rule.

The kind of importance he gave to the mainstream political parties could be inferred from the fact that he did not even mention the phrase ‘political parties’, a vital part of the polity under the 1990 Constitution, though he was critical of their role. The royal address also claimed to have confined the Maoist activity to ‘sporadic criminal activity’. But few will agree with this view. As if armed with foreknowledge and aiming to disprove this claim, the Maoists mounted a massive midnight attack in Tansen (Palpa) on Tuesday, killing a number of security personnel and sending more missing, including the CDO, besides destroying several government offices. With this, the claim of a considerable improvement in the security situation has become a major casualty.

Particularly worrying is the government’s assessment of the situation that does not come close to reality. And from this generous assessment has proceeded a continuation of a course of action that can only be expected to lead to more conflict and bloodshed, with uncertain but disastrous consequences for the country. The government has set great store by an election which already looks farcical in the eyes of most people, and which may prove the more so as the stepped-up Maoist attacks are likely to scare away many of even those who might otherwise vote. What good can the Nepali people expect from such an exercise, which the government intends to replicate at the national level in the name of the parliamentary election next year? Unless a realisation dawns on the powers-that-be that there is no military solution to the Maoist insurgency and that the only alternative left for a peaceful and democratic Nepal is a negotiated settlement of all political and constitutional disputes, the country’s downward slide cannot be halted.