By Dhruba Adhikary
The Maoists say they will not take part in November elections
Nepal's interim government faces its first major setback after former Maoist rebels announced their decision to recall their ministers from the cabinet.
The withdrawal of a major partner from the coalition comes just two months before the country goes to crucial polls to elect an assembly tasked with drawing up a new, democratic constitution.
The Maoist announcement, however, was neither sudden nor unexpected.
While Prime Minister GP Koirala was familiar with Maoist discontent, he and leaders of other political parties in the government did not actually believe that the former rebels would leave the team before the task was completed.
The rebels had, after all, ended a decade-long armed insurgency in order to be a part of mainstream politics.
When Maoist leader Baburam Bhattarai announced that all four Maoist ministers had resigned from posts they had occupied since April, he accused leaders of other coalition groups of not taking their well-publicised 22-point list of demands seriously.
Maoist leaders have also been saying that two of their demands are important if the polls set for 22 November are to be a meaningful exercise.
Their first main demand is that the feudal institution of the monarchy be abolished ahead of the polls, to be replaced by a republic.
The second is that the traditional first-past-the-post electoral system be changed to one of proportional representation.
The future of the king is at the centre of the row
The Maoists consider this essential to give space to traditionally marginalised groups in society.
Maoist leader Bhattarai sought to offer reassurances that, although the former rebels opposed the November vote, his party would not withdraw
their commitment to the peace process.
He also said that Maoist combatants now sheltered in UN-monitored cantonments would remain where they have been living for the past few months.
The written understanding reached previously to work with the coalition of seven parties, Mr Bhattarai said, would not be cancelled.
But it is not clear how reliable such assurances are, given that the Maoist leadership has already issued directives to their comrades across the country to launch a "peaceful" agitation with a view to preventing the forthccoming elections - which from their standpoint would be a farce.
Maoist vote fears
Elections cannot be free and fair as long as the monarchy is allowed to survive with possible support from a loyal army, goes the Maoist theory.
Prime Minister Koirala and other leaders are disappointed
Independent political analysts suspect that the Maoists' decision to stay away from the polls is because they now realise that it is simply not feasible to expect to gain a majority of votes from people who were terrorised by them in the past.
But the Maoists do not agree with this viewpoint and say they have been forced to change their position in the context of growing conspiracies.
They accuse external powers (mainly India and the US) of not wanting a stable and prosperous Nepal with China as its northern neighbour.
Prime Minister Koirala and other coalition leaders appear disappointed by the Maoist attitude over the monarchy.
They say they have all publicly expressed their commitment to opt for a republican set-up after the November polls, and there was no need for the Maoists to cast doubt on the sincerity of other partners who worked together to bring about the political changes which ended palace rule in April 2006.
Mr Koirala and other party leaders want the Maoist leadership to honour the agreements they signed - and say they face losing credibility as a political party if they do not.
Some of the leaders are angry with the Maoists for trying to deprive other parties of their due credit for having played a role in the continuing changes.
Analysts say that the Maoist have limited options.
The chances of their going back underground are slim in view of the sea change in overground politics in the past year.
Crossing the border into India is not easy either, especially in view of Delhi's changed policy towards the Maoists.
Indian authorities are also concerned over the growing Maoist menace that some of its states have been facing in recent years.
One possible way out for the Maoists would be to settle for some kind of coalition politics with other left-wing parties.
In fact, some of the smaller left-leaning parties have already started to receive feelers from the Maoists about forging an alliance.