Nepal poll vault comes crashing down


Kathmandu : After waiting for five decades for an election that would empower people to write their own constitution, Nepal’s dreams came crashing down yet again as its multi-party government decided to defer the crucial polls a third time to stave off a deadly confrontation with the Maoist guerrillas.

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Only a single party in the ruling alliance, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML), struck a note of dissent as Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala and the warring Maoists agreed to freeze all poll preparations and call a special session of parliament where they would make a last-ditch effort to reach an understanding.

After marathon negotiations for nearly a week that failed to break the deadlock between Koirala and the guerrillas, the top parties began yet another meeting Friday for an official announcement to suspend the poll process.

A sitting of the cabinet, which will endorse the proposal and formally ask the Election Commission to suspend the election programme, would follow the meeting.

The decision will affect the much-awaited constituent assembly election scheduled for Nov 22.

After already being postponed twice, it will now be deferred yet again, probably to April-May, as had been earlier proposed by the Maoists.

The UML’s top leaders, however, have condemned the decision, saying it would push Nepal to the brink of an endless crisis.

There is growing speculation that the failure would mean the end of Koirala’s leadership. The octogenarian prime minister had vowed to quit if he failed to hold the election in November.

The Koirala government will cut a sorry figure in the international arena. Nepal’s major donors, including India, the US and the European Union, had warned the government that it would lose legitimacy if it failed to hold the election on time.

The crisis was triggered by the Maoists, who quit the government last month and began pressing for the immediate abolition of monarchy and adoption of a fully proportional representation system.

Koirala refused to heed either demand, creating a deadlock that put the election in doubt since last month.

It caused the government to appeal to the Election Commission to extend the dates for filing nominations since the Maoists had threatened to prevent the exercise.

The five-day extension given by the commission for filing the first set of nominations ends Friday.

The poll panel’s reaction is also being awaited with bated breath. The chief election commissioner, Bhoj Raj Pokhral, had warned the government that it would not reshuffle the poll schedule a second time.

While the parties and the guerrillas are bickering in the capital, eastern Nepal and parts of the Terai plains in the south remain paralysed.

An alliance of six ethnic communities has called an indefinite general strike since Wednesday in a bid to block the constituent assembly election.

The Sanghiya Ganatantrik Rastriya Morcha, that includes Maoist dissenters as well as the splinter of a powerful Terai organisation, has called the protest to press its demand for the abolition of monarchy before the election, the formation of autonomous states for different communities and a fully proportional electoral system.

A dissident former minister and his followers have called a three-day general strike in the Terai plains from Thursday.

Rajendra Mahato, who last week resigned as minister for commerce, industry and supplies, quit the cabinet in a huff after a feud broke out in his Nepal Sadbhavana Party and the Election Commission recognised the dissidents as the bona fide party.

The constituent assembly election seems to be under a curse in Nepal.

Though King Tribhuvan, who ruled in the 50s pledged to hold the election, he never kept his promise and his successors staged coups to seize absolute power.