Nepali Times Asian Paints
Combing operation


There are 47 days to go for polls. But minus ten days of Dasain, three days of Tihar, three days of the Maoist strike and it is clear there isn't much time left for campaigning. Even if there was, candidates cannot venture outside the capital or district headquarters. Many local activists have been abducted and brutally murdered by Maoists, who have vowed not to let people vote.

So, there must be a reason why the politicians are not worried. Do they have a "Plan B"? Is the fallback option asking the king to use Article 127 to reinstate parliament and open the way for a multipartisan caretaker administration?

Subhas Chandra Nemwang of the UML told us: "The first option is elections and the expectation is that the government will make it possible to have it. If that isn't possible, then other alternatives may be explored." Nemwang was part of the ten party group that handed over a memorandum to prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba on Thursday (see picture).

Deuba needs to put on a brave face and project elections as a "constitutional compulsion" which can give continuity to multi-party democracy. But he is cornered, as parliamentary parties array themselves against him. King Gyanendra is said to be displeased with the government's inability to restore confidence.

The prime minister's latest argument is that if elections can be held in war-torn Kashmir, why not in Nepal? His press adviser, Achyut Wagle told us: "To announce that we can't hold elections now would mean giving the Maoists the moral and political victory they are trying to extract." The prime minister is expected to call an all party meeting early next week, but is said to be luke-warm to an all-party problem-solving approach.

In all this confusion, only the Maoists seem to know exactly what they want: no elections, period. They have declared a three-day general strike on 11-13 November, and announced a build-up of actions before that, threatening to behead candidates, declaring "election-free districts", and breaking the legs of anyone who dares help in campaigning.

The seven-point memorandum handed to Deuba Thursday is said to contain a list of options: among others convincing the Maoists not to disrupt elections, an all-party consensus on reforming the constitution, asking the king to reinstate parliament invoking Article 127, and forming an all-party government to try and talk peace with the Maoists.

But even this multipartisan effort is not suspicion free. Pro-Girija Kangresis are said to be insisting that Deuba step down, the leftist UML suspects the centre-right RPP of being too enthusiastic about Article 127 and in a hurry to claim a share of government. Others suspect the UML of similar intentions.

For his part, Deuba still has survival instincts intact, and will do anything to cling on to office. It would suit him to get some kind of multi-phase elections going, however flawed.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)