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NEPAL: Peace Process Survives Scare But Road Ahead Still Bumpy

Bhuwan Sharma

KATHMANDU, May 29 2010 (IPS) - Nepal’s three major political parties inked a compromise deal Friday, an hour before the expiry of the Constituent Assembly’s (CA’s) tenure, and voted in favor of a bill proposing extension of its term by a year, thus saving the country’s four-year-old peace process from breaking down.

Based on the deal signed by the heads of Unified Communist Party of Nepal- Maoist (UCPN-Maoist), Nepali Congress (NC) and Communist Party of Nepal- Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML), Prime Minister (PM) Madhav Kumar Nepal will resign at the earliest possible time and pave the way for a national consensus government.

The country would have been pushed into a constitutional vacuum if the parties had failed to reach an agreement to extend the CA term, which was due to expire Friday midnight.

“Through their rigid stances, they wanted to tire each other out, but they ended up compromising. They had no other option other than extending the CA term. But the real challenge begins now,” says Tribhuvan University’s Political Science Professor Krishna Khanal.

The Assembly, which had a two-year mandate to write a new constitution, could not finish its task because of differences between the political parties on a number of issues necessitating a term extension. The bill to extend the CA term had to be passed by a two-thirds majority, meaning that it needed the support of all the three major parties.

The Maoists command 38 percent seats in the CA, NC has 19 percent while the CPN-UML has another 18 percent.

The Maoists, on the one hand, and the NC and CPN-UML, on the other, have been at loggerheads primarily over the issue of power sharing since PM Nepal took the reins of a non-Maoist coalition government a year earlier.

The Maoists upped their ante to force PM Nepal to resign beginning May 1. They enforced an indefinite nationwide strike from May 2 that had to be called off after six days following retaliation from the people.

Throughout the marathon meetings, which intensified following the Maoist- enforced nationwide strike, NC and CPN-UML maintained that an agreement on issues acting as impediments to the constitution writing process such as the number of Maoist combatants to be integrated into the national security forces should precede the resignation of PM Nepal.

The Maoists joined mainstream politics in 2006 following a decade-long bloody war that claimed 16,000 lives. Since then, the country has witnessed historic changes such as its transformation from a constitutional monarchy to a republic.

UCPN (Maoist) meanwhile remained adamant on their stand that they would support the bill proposing extension of the CA tenure and agree on other contentious issues only after the resignation of PM Nepal, thus paving the way for a national unity government led by their party.

The Maoists maintain that being the largest party in the CA, they should be given the reins of the government while the other parties say that there is nothing wrong in the present coalition as they have majority support.

Considering their rigid stances, the deal signed on Friday is a compromise in the sense that the Maoists supported the move to extend the CA term prior to the resignation of PM Nepal while the other parties have agreed on PM Nepal’s resignation “as soon as possible.”

The extension of the CA term may have saved the peace process but the real challenge begins now as the parties have to sit down together and settle many contentious issues.

“If the Maoists want a national consensus government, they will have to make compromises. They must agree on a manageable number of combatants to be integrated into the national security forces, dismantle the paramilitary structure of Young Communist League (Maoists’ youth wing), return property seized by Maoist cadres, among others,” says NC Central Working Committee Member Dr Ram Sharan Mahat.

The number of Maoist combatants to be integrated into the country’s security forces from over 19,000 Maoist rebels who have been living in United Nations-monitored camps since the signing of a Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the Nepali government and Maoists in 2006 has been the major bone of contention between the Maoist and the non-Maoist parties.

Maoist spokesperson Dinanath Sharma says: “We have agreed on the resignation of PM Nepal within five days. We are expecting his resignation by Sunday. Once that happens, we can ready an agenda and proceed accordingly.”

NC’s Dr Mahat, however, begs to differ. “We haven’t agreed on a specific date for PM Nepal’s resignation. We have inked a deal saying that he will resign as soon as possible. It depends on the Maoists as to how soon they want it to be. They have to agree on the contentious issues first.”

From what the two sides are saying, it is quite clear that though the CA term has been extended, giving people room to heave a sigh of relief, the days ahead are going to be anything but pleasant.

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