| Riot policewomen take a breather in Kathmandu. (AFP)
Kathmandu, Feb. 7: Nepal goes into royal polls tomorrow in an exercise called by King Gyanendra to legitimise his crown with the stamp of democracy.
There are no candidates for more than half the seats for which voting is scheduled in 58 municipalities across the kingdom.
The election and the events about it have actually strengthened the credibility of the Maoists and further discredited the palace.
Sensing the opportunity, the chairman of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), Prachanda alias Puspa Kamal Dahal, has said that his party is ready for talks with the regime if a ceasefire is called.
The Maoists have a 12-point understanding with a seven-party alliance, chief among whom are the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist). In Kathmandu Valley, where the Maoists are at the gates but command little mass support, the understanding is intended to bolster support for the rebels at the cost of the corrupted leaders of the parliamentary parties.
But the absence of the seven parties from the municipal polls have robbed it of all pretensions of legitimacy. The parties were represented in about 90 per cent of the seats in the parliament that King Gyanendra dissolved in his powergrab on February 1 last year.
Kathmandu Valley and the rest of Nepal are in the middle of a Maoist-sponsored seven- day general strike. Despite terror striking the capital’s residents after a taxi driver was killed allegedly by Maoists last night, a few people defied the threats and were on the streets.
But the numbers could be counted on the fingers of two hands at any moment on busy New Road that is, on normal working days, choking with traffic.
Few taxis were available today and fewer still will be available tomorrow. The government has banned pillion riding on motorcycles because the police are afraid that Maoists will use two-wheelers for mobile attacks.
The police in Kathmandu are very clearly on the defensive. Last evening, the government ordered the withdrawal of upto a dozen police posts into police stations.
In an interview to the editors of the capital’s largest newspapers, the English daily The Kathmandu Post and the Nepali Kantipur, Prachanda said his party was looking at the creation of a democratic republic and a constituent Assembly and was ready to talk even with the royal regime.
He said he was keen to take the seven parliamentary parties along on the basis of their 12-point understanding. He told Narayan Wagle and Prateek Pradhan that the CPN(M) was making this offer even though the party’s “maximum goals” were socialism and communism.
The Maoists’ call for a general strike adds ballast to the call for a boycott of the municipal elections to be held tomorrow. In a renewed call and in separate statements today, leaders of the seven party alliance asked voters to stay away from polling booths.
Nepali Congress president Girija Prasad Koirala said in a statement that “the autocratic royal government which has usurped all the rights of the people is staging a drama in the form of so-called municipal elections tomorrow' I once again appeal to all sovereign and pro-democracy people not to cast their votes.”
The general secretary of the CPN (UML), Madhav Kumar Nepal, said the government was trying to force elections by ordering civil servants and state employees to cast votes. The CPN(Maoist) is pushing the envelope further. In a statement this evening, Prachanda asked his cadre to “take the movement for democracy and peace to a new height”.