Maoist lawmakers – many of them former rebels – stormed Nepal's parliament on Monday to block a vote for a new prime minister.
The Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) has been delaying the formation of a new coalition government for nearly two weeks since the resignation of caretaker Prime Minister Prachanda on May 4, and this move could prolong the political crisis even further.
Prachanda, a former rebel leader whose name means "the fierce one," quit following a dispute with the Army over integrating his former fighters into the military as part of a 2006 peace accord that ended the insurgency. His resignation, ostensibly in "defense of civilian control over the Army" after the country's president countermanded his decision to sack the army chief on May 3, failed to ignite mass protests as the Maoists had hoped.
Instead, the Maoists find themselves increasingly isolated, with most rival parties joining hands to form a new government. Now the party looks set to take up the role of the country's main opposition, something new for the former rebels who were fighting a guerrilla war against government forces until 2006. Analysts say that the army chief row could effectively put an end to the politics of consensus that was the foundation of peace agreements signed after Maoists officially ended their war in November 2006.
"The politics of consensus is the biggest victim of these developments, and every agreement that leaned heavily on it needs to be reviewed," says Damakant Jayshi, associate editor of Republica, a leading English daily.
The turn of events since Prachanda's resignation has been dramatic. Veteran communist politician Madhav Kumar Nepal, a senior leader from the relatively moderate Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist), who seemed to be in the twilight of his career after losing elections from two constituencies last April, looks set to become the country's new prime minister. Twenty-two of 24 political parties in the parliament, who command 350 of the 601 seats, have thrown their weight behind him. The only ones not supporting him are the Maoists and a small party, the Nepal Workers and Peasants' Party.
But the parliament has to formally endorse Nepal as the new prime minister through a vote.
Addressing some 50,000 supporters in Kathmandu on Sunday, Prachanda denounced President Ram Baran Yadav and the new prime ministerial candidate Nepal, saying they were stooges of a foreign power, a clear reference to India.
But the Maoist chairman was careful to tell his followers – who are angry with Mr. Yadav and are demanding that he resign – that his party would not desert the peace process, nor would it return to war.
The speech was also an indication that the road ahead for Nepal's peace process is rocky, especially because there is little trust left between the Maoists and the major democratic forces of Nepal.
There are 19,702 Maoist fighters living in cantonments across Nepal monitored by the United Nations. Unless they are resettled into society, lasting peace is hard for most Nepalis to imagine.
Why the Maoists 'civilian rule' argument was rejected
"The theory that the Maoists served a termination letter to the army chief to establish civilian supremacy was rejected all around, and with vehemence," says Jayshi. "Even India, which seems to wield considerable influence in Nepal's politics, rejected it."
India's role was instrumental in bringing the Maoists on board with the peace process. The Maoists signed a 12-point agreement with a coalition of Nepal's mainstream political parties in November 2005 in New Delhi under the aegis of the South Bloc, which wanted to experiment in Nepal in order to draw lessons to deal with a growing Maoist threat at home.
Narayan Wagle, editor of Nagarik, a leading Nepali daily, says the Maoists' militant background didn't help them in their argument for civilian supremacy. "This is a party that still has a private army. It fought a bloody war. It is still engaged in sporadic violence. There is no question of believing them when they say they want civilian supremacy over the army," Mr. Wagle says.
Role of Indian elections
The result of elections in India played an instrumental role in helping the prime ministerial candidate in Nepal get majority support, Wagle says.
"The decision by Nepal's fourth largest party, the Madheshi People's Rights Forum, to support the new coalition came after it became clear that [the Communist Party of India-Marxist] would no longer be a part of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance," he says. "The Forum realized that without Indian communists in the coalition, the new order in India would not be sympathetic to Nepal's Maoists."
Until the results of the India's vote were announced on Saturday, the Forum, an ethnic party that holds the key to the formation of any coalition government in Nepal with its crucial 53 seats, was still pushing for a coalition with Maoists. The Forum's change of heart coincided with the fact that the CPI-M, the Indian benefactors of Nepal's Maoists, suffered an unexpected defeat in the elections in India.