Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The fighting is over but pessimism rules

Election postponed, country's politics deadlocked by feuding parties, unco-operative Maoist militants

October 10, 2007
Tim Sullivan
ASSOCIATED PRESS

KATHMANDU–With 13,000 dead during more than a decade of fighting, there's at least one good thing Nepalis say about their country – at least there's no war now.

But nearly a year after Maoist militants left their Himalayan bases to join the political mainstream, raising hopes the government could finally govern, the country's politics remain deadlocked by feuding parties and overshadowed by the former insurgents.

In Nepal, one of the world's poorest countries, where most rural people struggle by in a semi-feudal existence, pessimism has become the rule.

"I was naive enough to believe that things would change," said former finance minister Devendra Raj Pandey. "I thought the parties would change, and that the Maoists would come around to accepting this new political reality.''

Instead, "They have all thoroughly disappointed the people in every sense of the word.''

When the peace agreement was signed in November, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala hailed it by saying "Nepal has entered a new era."

Prachanda, the Maoist leader, who goes by a single name, said in his speech that: "We will now turn to a campaign of peace and building a new Nepal.''

But little has been built so far.

The Maoists came into the government promising to concentrate on such issues as land reform and education. Instead, they face accusations of everything from forcefully recruiting new soldiers to intimidating political rivals and destroying voter education materials.

On Friday came one more disappointment. After days of arguing, the political parties and the Maoists agreed to postpone elections to the constituent assembly, which will draft the new constitution and map out the country's political future.

The election was originally scheduled for Nov. 22, but few expect it to be held before March.

It was the Maoists who pushed for the postponement, increasing pressure on the ruling alliance after quitting the government last month.

Nothing should happen, they say, until their demands are met. The monarchy, they insist, should be immediately abolished. They are also demanding procedural changes to the election system for the constituent assembly – modifications that appear aimed at ensuring they capture as many seats as possible. After first agreeing to polls with a mixed first-past-the-post and proportional representation system, the ex-rebels are now demanding full proportional voting.

On Monday, the Maoists proposed a referendum on the monarchy as a way out of a deadlock in the country's peace process.

"We don't really know what other options there are," senior Maoist ideologue C.P. Gajurel told Agence France-Presse after the ultra-leftists held high-level meetings over the weekend.
http://www.thestar.com/printArticle/265218

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