- The Washington Times - Friday, January 19, 2007

The political stalemate between Nepal’s coalition government of seven political parties and the Maoist rebels came to an end Monday with the promulgation of an interim constitution and the dissolution of parliament before the creation of a new 330-member interim legislature with Maoist representation.

Analysts say that with these events, the 11-year Maoist people’s war in Nepal that took the lives of nearly 14,000 people has come to an end, opening the door to people’s rule.

“This is the beginning of a new reconciliation and of a new Nepal,” Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala told the parliament before it dissolved. “What is a bigger achievement than this?” he asked.

Krishna Bahadur Mahara, 48, the Communist Party spokesman who headed a team of negotiators during the peace talks, was named leader of the parliamentary delegation of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist).

After taking the oath of office, Mr. Mahara said: “With the promulgation of the interim constitution, the beginning of an end of monarchy in Nepal has begun.

“We have vowed from today that we will finish the progressive restructuring of the state of Nepal, and its economic and social transformation in united manner. We will begin from politically transforming it via the election of the Constituent Assembly. Let’s make it a forum for constructive, meaningful and result-oriented action. It is necessary that we develop the habit of working and moving together while engaging in fair competition.”

India immediately welcomed the promulgation of an interim constitution and the formation of the interim legislature in Nepal, but cautioned that the process of arms management and verification with U.N. assistance must be “credible and complete before the formation of the interim government.”

The U.S. Embassy welcomed the development, saying on Tuesday: “We hope it will lay the groundwork for free and fair elections to a Constituent Assembly and move the country toward full-fledged and lasting democracy.”

Echoing India’s line, it also said, “The United States supports completion of a credible and transparent process of arms management, supervised by United Nations monitors, before an interim government of Nepal is formed.”

The Seven-Party Alliance and the Maoists had finalized the interim constitution Dec. 16 but waited until Monday to promulgate it simultaneously with the start of the process of arms management of Nepal Army, previously the Royal Nepal Army, and the People’s Liberation Army of the Maoists.

The interim legislature is overwhelmingly tilted to the communists with two major communist parties — the Maoists and the Unified Marxist-Leninist — commanding 83 seats each while the other three minor communist parties have 16 seats.

Analysts say that if the communist parties agree, they can amend the article of the interim constitution that leaves the status of monarchy suspended and abolish the monarchy outright without waiting for the results of Constituent Assembly elections. They can also change the government leadership, since Mr. Koirala’s Nepali Congress party holds no more than 85 seats in parliament.

The new parliament with its sizeable number of Maoist representatives looks quite different from the previous government. The Maoist party includes 31 women and 52 members from disadvantaged communities. It has also nominated a disabled person and 17 members from families who lost a relative during the insurgency.

The parties that supported King Gyanendra’s absolute rule, and eight other members of the existing parliament who opposed the April 2006 popular uprising, are not included in the new legislature.

The Maoists and the seven parties were bitter enemies until they signed a 12-point memorandum of understanding (MoU) in November 2005, creating a loose alliance to jointly fight the absolutism of Gyanendra.

The MoU led to huge anti-monarchy protests in April 2006 that forced Gyanendra to reinstate the dissolved parliament, yield power to the seven-party coalition, withdraw from active politics and become powerless.

Creation of the interim legislature was made possible after nine months of negotiations between the Maoist rebels and the SPA coalition government that produced a peace agreement and interim constitution, ending 11 years of Maoist insurgency.

The Maoists sought to share in the government, but Mr. Koirala insisted that the rebels could not be part of the government until their combatants laid down their arms.

As part of the peace agreement, the Maoists agreed to put their combatants in seven camps and lock up their arms in containers under close U.N. inspection.

The U.N. Security Council is expected to create this week a 12-month United Nations Mission in Nepal as recommended on Jan. 10 by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. It is to comprise 186 unarmed military inspectors, election analysts, and police and civil administration teams, to monitor the peace agreement between the government and Maoist rebels.

The U.N. will also deploy a small team of analysts to review all technical aspects of the Constituent Assembly elections to be held in June.

The interim constitution that took effect Monday suspended the monarchy until then. The interim constitution transferred the ceremonial power and authority enjoyed by Gyanendra as head of state to the office of prime minister until the fate of the monarchy is decided by a simple majority of the Constituent Assembly at its first meeting.

Analysts say Maoist participation in the political mainstream makes possible people’s rule through a constitution drafted by the people’s representatives.

Nepal watchers caution that using a Constituent Assembly to draft an inclusive constitution is an uphill task, given Nepal’s politically fractious environment.

Mr. Ban said: “The significant political process that Nepal has set in motion represents a crucial opportunity for the country to reshape its structures and institutions to reflect the capacities and meet the aspirations of all its peoples.” But he noted that debate over the country’s political future could swiftly exacerbate ethnic, regional and linguistic tensions.

Until a year ago, the idea of Maoists joining the democratic framework was not only unthinkable but also laughable for many observers, even though rebel leaders said they were fighting for a “democratic republic,” rather than for a “people’s republic.”

Critics in monarchical circles continue to suspect Maoist policy is a tactical ploy, but centrist scholars like Lok Raj Baral, a retired professor of political science, said the former rebels must “prove their democratic credentials” even after they have joined the democratic framework. “In Nepal,” he observed, “even democratic parties have at times failed to fulfill their responsibility. So it will take time for the Maoists to change into a full-fledged democratic party.”

Observers are concerned that violence could rise before elections if monarchists and Hindu extremists in Nepal or in India seek to prevent the elections. Analysts suspect that monarchists were behind a recent outbreak of sectarian violence by Maoists in southeastern Nepal demanding a separate, independent state for people living in the southern plains adjoining India.

Sectarian violence in the absence of a strong government is expected to come under control once the Maoists are part of the Cabinet after the completion of arms management, expected toward the end of January or in early February.

Kuldip Nayar, an Indian author and syndicated columnist, described Nepal’s revolution as peaceful, unlike in France. In an article titled “Never forget Kathmandu,” published Jan. 10, Mr. Nayar wrote: “Both King Gyanendra and the kingship, once held sacred, have been thrown into the dustbin of history without any violence. There was no guillotine, no storming of the Bastille, no Madame Therese Defarge … None among the oppressors was even touched.”

Chitra Tiwari can be reached at cktiwari@verizon.net.

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