Wrong linkage

The government has started considering options if the Maoists miss the deadline for talks which is coming to an end the day after tomorrow. It seems the government will have to decide on the next move as the rebels are highly unlikely to talk without international mediation and certain assurances from the palace. According to the royal mandate under which Sher Bahadur Deuba and the four political parties have agreed to form the present coalition, the government will have no option left but to announce a poll date. The High Level Peace Committee (HPC) headed by the Prime Minister is reported to have discussed on Sunday the possibility of declaring such a date this month. The HPC seems to have linked the announcement of a date to peace talks.

Deuba has said that the polls can be postponed if the Maoists agree to talk. But there should be no direct relation between the two. The Constitution and the democratic process cannot be held hostage to whether the rebels want to talk or not. But by linking the two, successive governments have raised public doubts about their bona fides. Because of this, the Deuba government is facing public charges of trying to prolong its life in the name of waiting for the rebels. Only the people through their collective will can opt for another Constitution — neither this government nor the palace nor the rebels — have any authority to go beyond the Constitution. A government which has been nominated by the King under Article 127 with the clear mandate that it will have to initiate the elections within this Nepali calendar year cannot go on postponing the polls. Talks and polls can go together. If a political solution was found, then the new parliament would take charge of the situation. This lameduck government should not behave like a popularly elected entity.

If the government cannot hold free and fair elections (as many think), it must have the courage to admit it. If it can, why wait for the rebels? If it is trying to hide its failure by talking of a poll date, it will only get a short lease of life to do so. But failure to deliver on the poll promise would be far more damaging to it than to admit it in time, as its incompetence would be proved beyond doubt soon enough. Though the royal mandate clearly says the government will have to start the elections within this year, Deuba has said that the government would sit for talks even if the polls were just five days away. This would be all very fine so long as this does not happen merely to postpone the elections.

One gets the impression that the Deuba team is desperately looking for ways to buy time and announcing a poll date would give it several months. Then it might depend on luck for things to work out themselves.