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Last Updated: Monday, 8 October 2007, 14:22 GMT 15:22 UK
Is Nepal's democracy in danger?
By Rabindra Mishra
Editor, BBC Nepali service

Nepal's Maoist leader Prachanda - 16/3/2007
The Maoists have managed to undermine their opponents
A political crisis in Nepal is set to worsen after the postponement, for the third time, of elections for a Constituent Assembly (CA) that has to draw up a blueprint for the country's future.

Many analysts are doubting if the polls will be held at all.

They also say the latest postponement of the polls will only benefit the monarchy, which is ironic given that all the major parties have agreed on the abolition of the monarchy.

The Maoist rebels have been blamed for the postponement of the elections for coming up with two new demands:

  • That the monarchy be abolished immediately by the present, interim parliament

  • That the CA elections be held on a fully proportional voting system

Both the demands contradicted their earlier agreement with seven political parties who they joined in opposition to King Gyanendra.

The postponement of the polls should be viewed against the wider Maoist strategy.

Change

In their days as a guerrilla force, their fundamental strategy was to gain influence in the countryside before surrounding and entering the capital, Kathmandu, for a final strike.

A decade of insurgency left them dominating much of rural Nepal.
Soldiers
It the army set for a confrontation with the Maoists?

But when the Maoists realised intimidation and violence were less effective in Kathmandu, they changed their strategy.

In late 2004, they decided to work with mainstream political parties to further their goals.

The strategy received a boost when King Gyanendra sacked the democratic government and took over power in February 2005.

Enraged by the king's action, the mainstream political parties, who had in the past refused to collaborate with the Maoists, decided to accept the rebels into their fold.

Together, the Maoists and the seven mainstream parties took on the king in a series of street protests in April 2006 that resulted in the king handing back power.

In subsequent months, the Maoists became part of the interim parliament and the government.

They also went about gaining as much influence as possible in commerce, the media and other areas of public life in the capital.

So having established themselves in Kathmandu, they have one final objective left - to capture power.

Pressure

Most analysts agree that the Maoists have little chance of doing this through competitive politics. They have lost much of their influence in the countryside, and are unpopular in the cities.

From a position of rock-bottom unpopularity... the king's standing has been gradually picking up

That seems to be why they wanted November's elections put off.

In the meantime they will try to pressure other parties to agree to their demands for the immediate ending of the monarchy and for the CA polls to be held under a fully proportional voting system.

They have also shown an ability to outwit their opponents in a way that erodes the authority of much of the state.

It was the failure of the democratic parties, the king, the army and other security agencies which made the Maoists' journey to the capital possible in the first place.

Now they have reached a point where they seem able to put a break on a national objective like holding elections, something that virtually the entire country had agreed on.

This, many say, has severely weakened the public's confidence in its legitimate institutions.

Bloodshed fears

Many people have begun to talk about Nepal entering an era of either ultra-rightist (military or military-backed) or ultra-leftist (Maoist) dictatorship.

King Gyanendra
King Gyanendra's stock is slowly rising

They are not ruling out bloodshed between the army and the Maoists, who have concentrated a large number of their members in Kathmandu.

The coming days and months are crucial for Nepal's fragile peace process.

So is the special session of parliament on Thursday which will look into various options to address the prevailing crisis.

It is understood that the army has already opposed the idea of the current interim parliament declaring Nepal a republic.

Sources say the army is also unhappy about Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala's Nepali Congress Party's recent decision to vote for the abolition of the monarchy when the Constituent Assembly meets.

The Maoists have now hinted that they are ready to compromise on the timing of the abolition of the monarchy.

But they look far less likely to compromise on the proportional representation issue.

Whatever is decided - and other options are up for discussion - the result could well need amendments to the constitution and relevant electoral laws.

From all this mess, it is King Gyanendra who is gaining.

From a position of rock-bottom unpopularity, when he had to give up power in April, 2006, his standing has been gradually picking up - thanks to the chaos and discord among the political parties and Maoists.

Some leaders now say that democracy in Nepal is in serious danger.

They are arguing that a broader coalition should be formed which would also take into its fold the pro-monarchy forces to stop the country from sliding into dictatorship.

But the wider held view is that a final showdown between the army and the Maoists in Kathmandu is more likely than ever.

If such a situation arises, nobody knows who will prevail.

However, one Indian expert on Nepal, retired Gen Ashok Mehta, believes that Delhi would be prepared to give military help to the government in Kathmandu rather than see the Maoists seizing power by force.



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