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Nepal's dreams crash as elections deferred again
Kathmandu | October 05, 2007 2:05:07 PM IST
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After waiting for five decades for an election that would empower people to write their own constitution, Nepal's dreams came crashing again Friday as its government decided to defer the polls a third time to stave off a deadly confrontation with Maoist guerrillas.

Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala held an emergency meeting of his cabinet Friday morning after negotiations with the Maoists broke down and decided to ask the Election Commission to stop all election-related programmes till a special parliamentary session was called to determine the next course of action.

"Though the Election Commission has completed all arrangements, the polls can't be held by the Election Commission alone desiring it," the poll panel said in a statement.

"Since the Election Act has given the government the power to postpone the polls, the Election Commission, as per the government's instructions, is suspending all election-related programmes."

This is the third time that the crucial election, said to be essential for restoring peace and stability in Nepal, has been deferred.

Soon after the fall of King Gyanendra's regime last year, the opposition parties who came to power pledged to hold the election by the end of that year. However, they failed to keep their word and finally named June 22 for the decisive polls that were to have also sealed the fate of Nepal's 238-year monarchy.

Even the June date could not be kept due to the deteriorating security situation and the government's tardiness, resulting in the exercise being postponed to Nov 22.

Now, it has been put off again with no immediate dates announced.

Koirala will have to call a special session of parliament, latest by Oct 13, after the Maoists demanded it and produced the required support from legislators.

At the special session, they aim to force the government to abolish monarchy immediately.

But the session could aggravate the crisis instead of resolving it. If the Maoists fail to get the votes of two-thirds of the MPs, their plan will boomerang, setting them on yet another course of confrontation with the government.

Three communist parties struck a note of dissent as Koirala and the Maoists decided to freeze all poll preparations.

The third largest party in the ruling alliance, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML), and two minor partners of the ruling alliance, Jana Morcha Nepal and Nepal Workers and Peasants' Party, said the postponement would aggravate the 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 EU, had warned the government that it would lose legitimacy if it failed to hold the election in 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.

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 Election Commission for filing the first set of nominations ended Friday.

Even as it was apparent that the election would not be held, the Maoists issued a statement, saying they favoured holding the election on Nov 22.

"To maintain the unity between the parties and the Maoists and to facilitate the peace process, our party has agreed to suspend election programmes till a special session of parliament is held which would declare Nepal a republic and agree on a fully proportional representation system," Maoist supremo Prachanda said.

"But it is our party's view that an immediate decision should be taken to abolish monarchy and adopt a fully proportional system and hold the election on Nov 22."

As the fate of the election hangs in the balance, fresh turbulence hit eastern Nepal and the Terai plains in the south.

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.

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.

-Indo-Asian News Service (IANS)


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