In Nepal's democratic revival, Maoist rebels dubious

As victory rallies erupted across this Himalayan nation Tuesday following the reinstatement of the parliament by King Gyanendra on Monday night, analysts cautioned that while the royal retreat is a victory for democratic forces, Nepal still is far from securing permanent peace.

On the 19th day of a peaceful uprising that closed much of the country, Gyanendra also agreed to a road map presented by an alliance of seven political parties for the resolution of the bloody Maoist conflict.

The seven parties welcomed the king's step and have already decided to form a government under the premiership of Nepali Congress President Girija Prasad Koirala. However, the Maoists, who participated in the demonstrations under an agreement with the parties, strongly dismissed the king's move, vowing to press on with protests.

In a statement issued Tuesday, Maoist chairman Prachanda and his No. 2, Babu Ram Bhattarai, said that by accepting the king's offer, the parties have made a "historic" mistake, broken their pact with the rebels, and betrayed the people. The Maoists entered into a pact with the parties in November, with both agreeing on constituent assembly elections for the drafting of a new constitution as a condition for Maoists to join multiparty politics.

The Maoist leaders said they would carry on protests "until an announcement of unconditional constituent assembly elections."

While the Maoist rejection sparked worries among peaceful protesters, analysts see the statement as a pressure tactic from the Maoists. Krishna Khanal, professor of political science at Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu, says that such a response from the Maoists is not surprising given the amount of blood they have shed demanding constituent assembly elections.

"This happens in politics. The rejection is just to put pressure on the parties to announce constituent assembly elections quickly," he says, pointing out that their statement clearly says they will continue with their programs only until the elections are announced.

The main bone of contention is between "conditional" and "unconditional" constituent assembly elections.

The parties want the Maoists to lay down arms before participating in constituent assembly elections. However, the Maoists have been demanding unconditional constituent assembly elections, during which they are prepared for UN arms monitoring.

However, many don't see this issue as big enough to prevent the Maoists from entering a peaceful democratic process. With people's representatives heading the government to be formed after the parliament convenes on Friday, the Maoists can be convinced that they face no threat from state forces and can therefore lay down arms to participate in constituent assembly elections.

"The Maoists may have taken their latest stand because they have fears that the parties may not call for constituent assembly elections at all," says Arjun Karki, president of NGO Federation Nepal in Kathmandu. "The willingness of the Maoists to participate in peace process was evident in the past three weeks when the country saw, for the first time, Maoists protesting peacefully."

The largely peaceful demonstrations managed to achieve with the loss of 14 lives what the Maoists could not achieve in 10 years at the cost of more than 13,000 lives. In his televised address Monday, Gyanendra relinquished the absolute powers that he seized 14 months ago and returned power to the dissolved parliament.

"Convinced that the source of state authority and sovereignty of the Kingdom of Nepal is inherent in the people of Nepal and cognizant of the spirit of the ongoing people's movement as well as to resolve the ongoing violent conflict and other problems facing the country according to the road map of the agitating seven party alliance, we, through this Proclamation, reinstate the House of Representatives, which was dissolved on 22 May 2002," the king said.

The parliament will convene Friday. The seven-party alliance has said that announcing constituent assembly elections is the main agenda, though the process has to be worked out.

Mr. Khanal says that the political parties, known for squandering opportunities to address the country's problems and for their interparty and intraparty squabbles during their rule from 1990 to 2002, have shown enough maturity recently to ease doubts about their sincerity to move forward with an election.

Analysts see little room for the Maoists to scuttle the momentum of new elections, as the peaceful uprising has rejected violence as the means for political change.

"I don't think the Maoists will succeed [in continuing with their protests]," says Yubaraj Ghimire, editor of Samay, a weekly news magazine. "If the people can rise up against the arms of the King, it means that they have denounced the Maoist way of doing things," he says. "They can reject Maoist violence with a ferocity equal to what they displayed in rejecting the King's autocratic regime."

Mr. Ghimire also said that the days of Hindu monarchy in the country are numbered, reflecting what some expect will be an eventual rewriting of the constitution that will leave the king either with ceremonial powers or no role at all.

Even as the Maoists have called for continued agitation, businesses opened for the first time in 20 days. Cellphones that had been disrupted by the government in a bid to hamper coordination by protesters, started functioning Tuesday morning. The streets again are beginning to have a sense of normalcy. Nepalese hope that this will last.

"There is no doubt that a new constitution formed by a constituent assembly will end the monarchy," says Tek Bahadur Khadka, a grocery store owner in Kathmandu. "But the statement from the Maoists is worrisome."

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