Nepal's political mood swings keep oscillating between optimism and pessimism with brief interludes of euphoria.
It has been a roller-coaster ride ever since the 12-point agreement in November 2005. This year's Dasain, hope turned to despair as we watched the theatre of the absurd: Gyanendra in Taleju greets cheers of hired crowds, Girija in Biratnagar promises harsher security measures, Baburam in Kakani threatens to quit the interim parliament, Ban Ki-Moon in New York issues dire predictions for the peace process and Gen Rukmangat Katuwal in Taplejung says there won't be any coup.
Everyone thinks that everyone else is wrong. The Maoists think they're always right, the NC is always in foolish denial, the UML enjoys fence-sitting. But no one is really confident about the efficacy of its preferred method. While such prolonged uncertainty can breed despondency, there is no cause for alarm. When everybody is perplexed, they have no option but to end the current deadlock.
In the jubilation of unification, the NC is exhibiting new stubbornness. The usurpation of their political agenda by the mainstream parties has made Maoist leaders less flexible. Since there are no ground rules for political dialogue, posturing has become the default position of all politicians. While a war of words is less harmful than a war of real bullets, top-level leaders must ensure their dire threats don't become self-fulfilling prophecies. The NC and UML leaders should also reflect on whether their anti-YCL speeches have contributed to weakening the moderate leadership within the Maoist party.
The Maoists have been at the receiving end of blistering criticism all this week at the special session of parliament. The mainstream parties have excelled themselves in ridiculing Pushpa Kamal Dahal, disparaging Baburam Bhattarai slamming Ram Bahadur Thapa, deriding Mohan Baidya. The Maoist stance has therefore hardened as well. It was foolish of them to walk out of government, but the NC and UML provoked it by their blithe indifference to the plight of combatants in cantonments.
When the interim parliament reconvenes later this month, its members will have to recognise the precariousness of their position. If the Maoists make it irrelevant by walking out they will be the biggest losers. UML leaders in particular need to realise that there is no place for theatrics now. On the other hand, the NC can undermine the entire peace process if it insists on turning the legislature into a rubber-stamp. Issues to be resolved are complex, and of far-reaching consequences. It requires serious deliberation in an atmosphere of trust and mutual understanding.
Despite the loss of face caused by the election postponement, the seven party alliance is the only thing we have. Alternatives discussed at Dasain reunions-a non-partisan electoral government, a military-backed NC-UML coalition, internationally-approved royal guardianship, technocratic government under UN stewardship--all border on desperation.
Although the Maoists have worked remarkably well so far with mainstream parties, the variance between perceptions of parliamentary forces and former insurgents isn't just attitudinal, it's ideological. Some philosophical differences between the Maoists and mainstreamers-land reforms, market mechanism and social re-engineering for example--are irreconcilable. Bullets proved powerless to settle those issues, they can now only be resolved through the ballot. The terms of engagement, however, need to be clearly set.
Consultations and consensus-building prior to the announcement of new dates for the constituent assembly election will have to be carried out in an environment of tolerance and restraint to build trust. Since there is unanimity over avoiding further outside interference in the peace process, mudslinging in public isn't just pointless, it's proving to be counter-productive.
There is some difference over the manner of monarchy's disposal, but no doubts about the supremacy of sovereign Nepalis. Then why delay constituent assembly elections? Mainstream parties are no more sincere about holding polls, but the question this time stares straight into the face of Maoists: deferral of CA elections isn't a disaster, but any lack of commitment to its earliest rescheduling will prepare the ground for catastrophic consequences.