27 April 2006

Maoists soften stance in Nepal

Kathmandu: The Maoists have lifted their blockade on capital and district headquarters and also declared a ceasefire. But they have also warned the Seven Party Alliance against delaying the decision to go in for an unconditional constituent assembly.

27 April 2006
The Hindu

Maoists soften stance in Nepal
But warn parties against delay

Siddharth Varadarajan
  • Renewed cooperation possible between Maoists, SPA
  • Fear of legal obstacles to constituent assembly misplaced, says Bar Association president
Kathmandu: Responding to an appeal by Nepal's Prime Minister-designate, Girija Prasad Koirala, the Maoists on Wednesday lifted their blockade of Kathmandu and all district headquarters. But in a statement announcing the decision, Maoist leader Prachanda said he wished to "make it clear that if the first meeting of the [restored] Parliament does not take a positive decision on the declaration of an unconditional constituent assembly, we will be compelled to reimpose the blockade."

Though couched in the language of a warning, Mr. Prachanda's latest statement reflects a softening of the Maoists' initially hostile reaction to King Gyanendra's announcement that Parliament was being reactivated. The Maoists on Tuesday had termed the SPA's endorsement of the King's decision a "betrayal."

Since Mr. Koirala is widely expected to make a positive announcement about his new government's decision to press ahead with a constituent assembly when Parliament convenes on Friday, the Maoists' statement opens the door for renewed cooperation between the insurgents and the SPA.

"The basis of this movement is the 12-point agreement and the promise of a peace process," said Krishna Pahadi, a leading human rights activist. "When it meets, Parliament must address the task of achieving long term peace. There is also the need to end impunity — to not allow human rights violators to get away — and to resolve the issue of the monarchy." Only an unconditional constituent assembly can provide the basis for tackling all these issues, he added.

As the question of constitutional change comes to the fore, a debate of sorts has started here about the legal obstacles that any push for a constituent assembly might face. In meetings with diplomats, for example, some SPA leaders have spoken of their fear that the Supreme Court might quash or stay any attempt to hold elections for a constituent assembly.

According to Shambhu Thapa, president of the Nepal Bar Association, these fears are misplaced. Article 116 of the 1990 Constitution allows for amendments "without prejudicing the spirit of the Preamble," which refers, inter alia, to constitutional monarchy. "The first step, therefore, is for Parliament to amend the preamble to include a reference to a constituent assembly. The amended Preamble should also state clearly the purpose of a constituent assembly, i.e., to enable the people to decide what kind of political system they want."

Once this is done, says Mr. Thapa, no court can ever challenge the legality of going in for a constituent assembly. "Is there any legal or social jurisprudence which can stop a process which seeks to ascertain what people want?"

Some analysts are critical of the SPA for having waited for King Gyanendra to announce the restoration of Parliament. "The parties should have announced the decision themselves," says Kanak Mani Dixit, the editor of Himal, who spent nearly three weeks in prison for defying curfew. Even now, says Mr. Dixit, the symbolism of the process is important. "The peoples' movement has brought Gyanendra's nose to the level of mud and that is where it should remain. Koirala should insist on being sworn in by the Chief Justice and not by Gyanendra," he says. "That would send a very important message."

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