For the ten days of Dasain, Nepalis traditionally anesthetise themselves from pain and misery.
This year, it was good while it lasted. But the painkiller of the festival is beginning to wear off, and once more we wait with a sense of foreboding for the political brinkmanship that the seven parties will be engaged in next week. The politicians have already started posturing and as expected it is all about electoral procedures and the deadlock on republic. Meanwhile, the petrol lines are longer than ever, and a sidelined king Gyanendra has been using the slow news environment to project himself on tv screens touring temples.
To recap: before Dasain the Maoists resigned from government and forced the postponement of elections. A special session of parliament couldn't come to an understanding and was itself postponed, the seven party leaders met in marathon sessions but without breaking the stalemate.
The deadlock is over the two Maoist demands for a full proportional electoral system and declaration of republic by parliament before polls. They shifted the goalposts: they had already agreed in the comprehensive peace agreement last year that republic would be declared by the constituent assembly and the elections would be conducted under a mixed system.
The NC and UML are convinced that the Maoists want so desperately not to have to face elections that they are sure to come up with new pre-conditions even if the two demands are met. That seems to be why the NC and UML are in no mood to agree even though the two demands are not such a big deal. In fact, it is semantics: the interim parliament can easily agree on a consensus commitment (sankalpa prastab) for republic. The full-proportional demand is all about electoral arithmetics: the NC has the most to lose if it is fully proportional and the Maoists fear a very poor showing in mixed voting.
The Maoists have left the door open by suggesting that even if one of the two demands are met, they are willing to allow elections. But such is the level of distrust that even informal gaterings over Dasain goat curry have failed to resolve this impasse.
Parliament meets on Monday 29 October in special session to debate the UML's compromise proposal. If the Maoists don't accept it, there will be a vote and the Maoists are bound to lose and they may then walk out of parliament as well and go for a full-fledged street movement. This reportedly was the message Pushpa Kamal Dahal delivered to Madhab Nepal when they met on Sunday. As a fall back option, some NC and UML leaders are already proposing having elections without the Maoists.
"I don't see too much possibility of the seven parties agreeing," a pessimistic Koirala told supporters in Biratnagar on the weekend.
The Maoist leaders have been told by hardliners in the party led by Mohan Baidya, C P Gajurel and Ram Bahadur Thapa that they will under no circumstances agree to an election in which people they see as corrupt class enemies they fought against for eleven years will be put in charge once more. The top comrades don't seem to be strong enough to withstand this pressure.