The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Nepal siege leaves parties helpless

Kathmandu, Aug. 21: Mainstream political parties in Nepal seem to be clueless on how to meet the Maoist challenge. The result is a political vacuum which is being exploited by the Maoists on the one hand and the monarch and his army on the other.

The indefinite economic blockade imposed by the Maoists around Kathmandu has once again exposed the growing marginalisation of democratic politics.

Analysts and large sections of the people now see this as a negation of the decade-long pro-democracy movement which ended absolute monarchy and brought in multi-party democracy in Nepal in 1990.

The parties, therefore, could do little other than criticise the Maoists for imposing the blockade. Their authority and influence on the people considerably eroded, they seem to be increasingly surrendering the political space to the Maoists.

“We have said this Maoist offensive will strengthen the hands of people (meaning the palace loyalists) who do not want the peace talks,” says Sankar Pokhrel, an influential member of the central committee of the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist).

The other major political party, the Nepali Congress, seems just as helpless. “It’s true we’re out in the cold.Our irrelevance is bringing back the old state ruled by the king and the army.But it’s the government’s responsibility to initiate a fresh peace dialogue,” argues Chakra Bastola, member of the party’s working committee.

He recalls that the party recently offered a three-point formula to tackle the Maoist challenge and also to end the current political stalemate in the country.

The CPN(UML) too had its eight-point suggestion to resolve constitutional, political and social issues thrown up by the Maoist insurgency.

The problem is that, instead of coming together to rescue the political process, the parties are squabbling among themselves.

The unity that marked the agitation against King Gyanendra’s decision to dissolve parliament and take over executive powers last October is now a thing of the past.

That is why the CPN(UML) has joined the government of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba while the Nepali Congress stayed out.

“We couldn’t join this government,” Bastola argues. “Because we wanted the dissolved parliament to be revived”.

The CPN(UML) did not agree. “We wanted it to be an-party government formed under a common minimum programme”, says Pokhrel. He, however, goes on to accuse Deuba on going back on the CMP.

But the Maoist tactics seem to have worked in getting the NC and the CPN(UML) on two most important issues.

Both parties now suggest that it was perhaps time to have a fresh look at the country's 1990 constitution and have a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution — the two major demands of the Maoists.

“We even accepted a referendum on these issues as an option,” Bastola says.

But analysts argue that neither a new constitution nor a constituent assembly would come soon because the palace will oppose it till the end.

There is valid reason for this argument — after all, the advocates of a new constitution want the powers and privileges of the king and the army to be drastically reduced.

No wonder that Deuba who had earlier agreed to the idea of the election of a constituent assembly has now backed out. How could he ask for a new constitution, he has argued, while he became Prime Minister by virtue of the present constitution.

His critics say he has “surrendered to the palace”. So the parties carry on their blame games,letting the initiatives fall out of their hands. In the empty political space, the Maoists rehearse their little uprisings.

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