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Nepal government defers crucial polls


Kathmandu : The Nepalese people’s dream of writing their own constitution after a five-decade-long wait has been thwarted yet again. The multi-party government has decided to defer the much-awaited elections a third time in a bid to stave off a confrontation with Maoist guerrillas.

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 election 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 Maoists, the leading parties began yet another meeting Friday ahead of an official announcement to suspend the poll process.

A cabinet meeting that will endorse the proposal and formally ask the Election Commission to suspend the election programme will follow the meeting.

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

Having been postponed twice, the elections are likely to be put off until April-May as proposed by the Maoists.

The UML’s top leaders 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 Maoists triggered the crisis. They began pressing for the immediate abolition of monarchy and adoption of a fully proportional representation system and also quit the government.

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

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 commission’s five-day extension for filing the first set of nominations ended Friday.

The poll panel’s reaction is also being awaited. 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 Maoists 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, which includes Maoist dissenters as well as the splinter of a powerful Terai organisation, called the protest to press its demand for the abolition of monarchy before the election, formation of autonomous states for different communities and a fully proportional electoral system.

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

King Tribhuvan, who ruled in the 50s, pledged to hold the election but did not keep his promise. His successors staged coups to seize absolute power.