Nepali Times
A peace missing

Now that the painkiller of the festival season begins to wear off, we wait once more with a sense of foreboding.Goaded by hardline monarchists, the NC is in no mood to agree to any more Maoist goalpost shifting. Similarly, die-hard revolutionaries among the Maoists have held their leadership hostage. The level of distrust is now so high that even a slight mis-reading of signals could take us to the brink. Such hair-trigger stalemate is not good for either side.

The bottom line is that the Maoists don't want a constituent assembly election in which they will be trounced, even if it was something they fought for 11 years.

They are too shy to say it out front, hence the two demands for a full proportional electoral system and declaration of republic by parliament before polls. Instead of taking us quicker towards a republic, the Maoist stance has only prolonged the lifespan of the monarchy.

The NC is enjoying seeing the Maoists squirm. The conservative pro-monarchist wing of the party doesn't want elections either because it is sure to lose its dominance of the un-elected interim legislature. They find it convenient to let the Maoists take all the blame for being spoilsports.

The only silver lining in this endless stalemate is that at least these things are being debated on the floor of parliament and not on the battlefield. But the longer the stalemate drags on, the greater the danger to the peace process. The Maoists and the monarchists have a common agenda in buying time and letting things drift, but no one benefits from this prolonged uncertainty.

If it was only over electoral procedures and the declaration of republic, it shouldn't have been this difficult to find a compromise.

After all, it's either about sequencing (the interim parliament can easily agree on a consensus commitment on republic) or it's about semantics (the direct election part of the mixed system could also be carried out in a proportional manner).

The Maoists have left the door open by suggesting that even if one of the two demands is met, they are willing to allow elections. But such is the level of suspicion that the NC refuses to budge because it thinks the Maoists will come up with new demands if it agrees to the present two. This misgiving is partly justified because the Maoists are already floating trial balloons about a new census and an election government.

Till press time on Thursday afternoon, it looked like backroom negotiations on a consensus agreement may still avert a vote. The question is: why were the Maoists so determined to lose in a vote? To expose parliament as a sham? So they'll have an excuse to go back to the streets? To appease hardliners?

Whatever the reason, intense streets protests now is the last thing the Nepali people want or this country needs. Let's take this debate out of the hands of the hardliners on both sides who want a winner-takes-all system and let it be settled by more reasonable people in parliament who can finally give our politics some direction.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)