Friday, October 5, 2007

Nepal polls likely to be postponed

Thursday, 04 October , 2007, 23:05
Kathmandu: The November 22 election in Nepal, regarded as a key step in restoring peace and stability in the strife-torn nation, is likely to be deferred a third time with the multi-party democratic government reaching an agreement on Thursday night with the Maoist guerrillas to put on hold all preparations.
Nepal's official TV station, Nepal Television, said that an informal understanding had been reached between the government and the Maoists to suspend election preparations.
After nearly six-hour negotiations the six ruling parties and the rebels agreed to hold a last-minute dialogue Friday morning, after which it would be clear if the election would be postponed to April-June, as the Maoists had demanded earlier.
The understanding with the Maoists creates a piquant situation.
It enables the Girija Prasad Koirala government to avert a deadly confrontation with the Maoists that was likely to arise Friday - the day for filing the first round of nominations for the November 22 polls and the Maoists had warned they would disrupt the process.
On the other hand, it remains to be seen how Nepal's independent-minded Election Commission would react to the decision since it warned the government this week, after reshuffling dates for filing nominations, that it would not condone further changes.
Nepal's civil society, professional organisations and other parties are also likely to flay the government for its failure to hold elections in time.
However, the Koirala government would lose the support of the international community, which has clearly said that its legitimacy depends on holding the polls on time.
The impasse was created after the Maoists quit the government last month and began pressing for the immediate abolition of monarchy and adoption of a fully proportional representation system.
Koirala refused to heed either demand, creating a deadlock that has been casting dark clouds over the election for the past six days.
While the parties and the guerrillas are engaged in dialogue, eastern Nepal and parts of the Terai plains in the south remain paralysed.
An alliance of six ethnic communities has called for an indefinite general strike since Wednesday in a bid to block the constituent assembly election.
The Sanghiya Ganatantrik Rastriya Morcha, that includes Maoist dissenters and a faction of a powerful Terai organisation, has called the protest to press its demand for the abolition of monarchy before the election, the formation of autonomous states for different communities and a fully proportional electoral system.
Besides, a three-day general strike has been called in the Terai plains from Thursday by a dissident former minister and his followers.
Rajendra Mahato, who last week resigned as minister for commerce, industry and supplies, quit the cabinet in a huff after a feud broke out in his Nepal Sadbhavana Party and the Election Commission recognised the dissidents as the bona fide party.
Mahato has moved court over the verdict and vowed to disrupt the election, saying the government was biased against people from the plains and would not hold free and fair elections.

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