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Nepal's polls thrown into doubt as Maoists exit government

The Maoists have not ruled out another armed revolt.

By Bikash SangraulaCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / September 24, 2007



Kathmandu, Nepal

Nepal's Maoists last week quit an interim government after coalition partners rejected their demand to declare the country a republic before special assembly elections slated for Nov. 22. They also announced they would not abide by a national election code of conduct, throwing the elections into uncertainty.

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The Maoists, who had agreed in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that the elected assembly would decide the fate of the 239-year-old monarchy, made their demand last month to the Girija Prasad Koirala government, which had four Maoist ministers. Mr. Koirala argued that a fresh popular mandate was essential to deciding the fate of the monarchy.

Analysts say the Maoists backtracked out of fear that they would fare poorly in the elections. Declaration of a republic would give their anticipated election campaign a much-needed boost, especially in justifying a long insurgency that killed 13,000 people.

"The Maoist demand of a republic has two objectives," said C.K. Lal, columnist for the Nepali Times. "First, by demanding something that this government cannot fulfill, the Maoists have successfully postponed the elections. Second, had the political parties somehow agreed on the demand for a republic, the Maoists would have found justification to their insurgency and been able to go to people's doorsteps to ask for votes stating that the objective of the insurgency has been achieved."

With all the mainstream parties deciding to compete in the elections with republican agendas, the Maoists have found themselves devoid of a unique agenda, says Raghuji Pant, a lawmaker representing the Communist Party of Nepal-United Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML). "Thus their demand," Mr. Pant says.

Even before the elections, the interim parliament had stripped the unpopular King Gyanendra of all his powers, including his control over the Army and his status as the head of state.

The Maoist demand for something that only awaits a formal seal of approval of an elected assembly shows the reemergence of hard-liners in their party, says Krishna Khanal, who teaches political science at the Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu.

"It is clear that the communist hard-liners, who remained dormant in the Maoist party for the past two years, during which the former rebels cooperated with the seven political parties, have now emerged as a dominant force," Mr. Khanal says.

The pressure from the radicals came to the fore last month when, during the party's first plenary meeting held in Kathmandu, an overwhelming majority of participants criticized the party leadership for poor performance in the government and asked them to quit.

Pant said that moderates who held sway since the Maoists decided to work with the political parties in 2005 to overthrow the monarchy no longer call the shots.

The Maoists had joined hands with the mainstream parties to wrest power from King Gyanendra, who grabbed executive powers in a bloodless military coup on Feb. 1, 2005. Weeks of popular protests in April last year forced the king to relinquish executive powers.

The pullout is a blow to Nepal's 10-month-old peace process, which was to be capped with assembly elections. The Maoists have started door-to-door campaigns for "a new peaceful movement to declare the country a republic from the streets." But deputy leader Baburam Bhattarai did not rule out another armed revolt.

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