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Nepal poll schedule under revision to avert clashes
Kathmandu | September 30, 2007 11:05:06 AM IST
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After three days' marathon negotiations between Nepal's ruling parties and the Maoists failed to break the deadlock over the imminent election, frantic parleys were underway Sunday to urge the Election Commission (EC) to reshuffle the poll schedule and avert clashes with the guerrillas and other dissidents.

The powerful youth wing of the Maoists, the Young Communist League, stepped up its campaign from Saturday for a paralysing protest programme Sunday to disrupt the working of the EC and prevent contestants from filing the first set of nominations.

The rebels have now got a new ally in the form of an aggrieved minister, who quit the government Saturday and announced his opposition to the polls.

Rajendra Mahato, a leader from the turbulent Terai plains in south Nepal, resigned as commerce, supplies and industries minister Saturday after the EC declared the dissident faction in his Nepal Sadbhavana Party the bona fide party.

Now the former minister, arrested and released after staging a protest against the verdict, has begun a fresh campaign against Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala's government.

The Mahato faction has called a three-day general strike in the Terai from Oct 4 to thwart the second date for filing the second set of nominations, which falls Oct 5.

The dissidents have a willy-nilly partner in the Maoists, who announced a similar protest programme earlier this month and walked out of the government.

The guerrillas are demanding the immediate abolition of monarchy and a fully proportional representation system for the Nov 22 election. However, the demands are being strongly resisted by Koirala and his Nepali Congress party.

The prime minister has refused to let parliament seal King Gyanendra's fate instead of the election. Neither is he ready to budge from the mixed system adopted for the November polls.

Three days of parleys between the ruling parties and the Maoists continued till late Saturday failed to resolve the impasse.

Now, in a frantic bid to avert clashes that would seriously question the ability of the government to hold the polls, the alliance is proposing to extend the poll schedule for five days.

By extending the nomination date by five days, the parties hope to buy time and wrest an understanding with the Maoists.

A fourth round of talks started at the prime minister's residence Sunday to formalise a letter to the EC and ask for the reprieve. However, if the postponement does not come through, both the Maoists and Mahato are ready to go ahead with their protests.

The government also has a second time bomb ticking away.

In an attempt to force the prime minister's hand, the Maoists last week formally sent a demand for a special session of parliament, where they would move a motion for ousting King Gyanendra from his 238-year-old throne.

Nepal's constitution demands that on receiving such a request, the PM call the session within 15 days.

After a 10-year-old fierce Maoist uprising that killed over 13,000 people, Nepal hoped for peace and stability when the rebels signed a peace pact last year and agreed to take part in the election.

However, now the fate of the polls, regarded as vital for restoring peace, is in jeopardy with the Maoists once again vowing to disrupt them unless they have their way.

Besides the rebels, several dissident groups have also been waging war against the exercise, saying their demands have to be addressed before.

The Koirala government faces its biggest challenge over the polls, which have been deferred twice. The international community has warned that the government would lose its legitimacy if it fails to hold the November election. (IANS)


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