As we go into 2003 there are three main political forces in the country: the palace-army, the political parties and the Maoists. The king and the parliamentary parties should logically be on the same side, but they're not.
For many pundits in Kathmandu, the biggest riddle is why the king decided to open up two fronts in October and thus effectively isolate himself. Did he underestimate the internal pressures preventing the Nepali Congress and the UML from joining the royal cabinet? Is he really on an autocratic path?
The huge Panchayat-type royal rally planned in Biratnagar on 3 January is proof to many that the king is willing to go it alone if the political parties keep out. He is banking on public disillusionment with the parties, but this will not necessarily translate into support for him unless he can arrange a breakthrough with the Maoists.
The big political parties are not supporting the rally, and by announcing a bandh on the day of the Biratnagar event the Maoists have flung down the gauntlet. "There is really no alternative to a rapprochement between the king and the parties," concludes Kapil Shrestha, a professor of political science at Tribhuvan University.
The result: in addition to the military stalemate in the countryside there is a political stalemate as well. The flurry of high-level visits by western officials to Kathmandu in the past two months shows that the international community is getting worried that Nepal's problems now affect regional security.
"The international community including our neighbours, particularly India, see the seriousness of the problem and they are eager to cooperate with Nepal to solve this problem," says Ram Sharan Mahat, former foreign minister from the Nepali Congress. But that support is conditional. The west and India have said publicly they prefer a constitutional role for the king in a parliamentary democracy. They are also getting nervous about human rights violations, the damning recent report by Amnesty International and their feeling that the army is in denial. If not handled properly, the promised hardware support to the army could be jeopardised .
The guns and helicopters are necessary to improve the army's efficiency and could put pressure on the Maoists to come to the negotiating table. Despite overtures and recent soft language from the Maoist leadership, there doesn't actually seem anything going on behind the scenes. Said one senior source: "As far as I know, they're not even talking about talking."
Nepali Times interviewed politicians and academics to chart out a series of possible scenarios for 2003. Here they are in descending order of optimism:
1. Government and Maoists muster political will to resume truce and talks. They reach a compromise by shelving irreconcilable differences like republicanism, and agree to rewriting the constitution without constituent assembly elections. Bringing the army under parliament convinces the Maoists to participate in a "bourgeois democracy". Election dates are announced, the Maoists form a political wing to contest.
2. Parliament is reinstated, an all-party national government formed, the king and parties agree not to disagree. The Maoists remain on the outside, but scale back the violence as peace overtures with the new all-party government begin. Maoists say they won't disrupt polls, but keep away. Dates for elections for local bodies and/or parliament are announced.
3. The parties and the king call a temporary ceasefire, but can't agree on the composition of an all-party government. Palace goes hardline, woos some more party defectors. As haggling goes on, the Maoists resume violence, strikes and extortion. Army launches a full-scale offensives on Maoist hideouts with heavy casualties.
4. Country descends into anarchy, Nepal becomes a failed state. Hundreds of thousands of refugees flee into India. Danger of foreign intervention grows.