Kathmandu: But many questions remain unanswered on eve of reconvening of Parliament; Maoists likely to stage rally today.
28 April 2006
A roadmap for peace takes concrete shape
Kathmandu: One of the concrete roadmaps envisaged is for the Girija Prasad Koirala-led Seven Party Alliance government to announce its intention to hold elections to a constituent assembly within, say, one year. This is then followed by the withdrawal of the "terrorist" tag from the Maoists as well as an appeal to India to release from its jails those Nepalese Maoist leaders against whom it has no charges. After formal negotiations between the SPA and the Maoists begin and a certain basic understanding is reached about the modalities of the proposed constituent assembly, the Maoists will then join the interim government, which will conduct elections. During this period, the Peoples' Liberation Army — the armed wing of the Maoists — will be confined to the barracks under international supervision.
Once new constitutional arrangements are made by the elected assembly, argues Shyam Shrestha, editor of Mulyankan weekly, the PLA could be merged with the Royal Nepal Army in the same way the African National Congress' armed cadres entered the South African Defence Forces following the end of Apartheid. "The main point is that once a political settlement is reached, the Maoists should no longer retain any arms and ammunition. They should become just like any other party," says Mr. Shrestha.
U.S. message to Maoists
U.S. Ambassador to Nepal James Moriarty said the U.S. designation of the CPN (M) as a terrorist organisation would change only once the Maoists "changed their behaviour."
In an interview to Nepal One Channel, Mr. Moriarty dismissed the Maoist formula for the eventual merger of its armed wing with the Royal Nepal Army as a ploy to turn the national army into an instrument for taking over the country.
The U.S. Embassy issued a statement calling the proposed constituent assembly "an excellent avenue for the Maoists to join the political mainstream and peacefully help address Nepal's problems." But in a veiled warning to the SPA about the limits of their proposed peace process, the Embassy insisted that the Maoists could not participate in any elections unless they "first ... lay down their arms and renounce violence."
SPA and civil society leaders say such a demand is not only improper for a foreign government to make but also unrealistic. They say it is possible to devise a peace formula that would include the intermediate step of placing the Maoists' army under international supervision during elections pending their final laying down of arms.
In an attempt to put the SPA on notice on the question of an unconditional constituent assembly, the Maoists are likely to try and mobilise their supporters for a rally at Khula Manch at noon on Friday. According to local news reports, the rally will be held under the auspices of the All Nepal National Independent Students' Union — Revolutionary, considered close to the Maoists.
The 205-member House of Representatives will meet at 1 p.m. on Friday, though expulsions and deaths have reduced its strength to 200. The NC is the strongest group with 72 MPs, the UML has 66, the NC (Democratic) of Mr. Deuba has 39, while smaller parties — including a handful of royalist outfits — make up the rest. Since the Speaker, Tara Nath Ranabhat has resigned, Mr Koirala, as the eldest member of the House, will preside over the first meeting.
If Mr. Koirala, who has taken ill, recovers in time to attend the opening of Parliament on Friday — and it is not clear he will since he was on ventilator throughout Thursday — one of the issues on which there is as yet no clarity is where the swearing-in ceremony for the Prime Minister will be conducted and who will administer the oath.
Before the people
Responding to public sentiment, Communist Party of Nepal (UML) leader Madhav Kuma Nepal declared on Thursday that the swearing-in should be done in front of the people rather than in the palace. Another unresolved question is the status of the upper House, whose recall was not mentioned by King Gyanendra in his last proclamation. Any legislation, let alone constitutional amendment, would require the upper House's assent. Yet even if it were to be convened immediately by the all-party government under the doctrine of necessity, as some legal experts have argued, there are 19 vacancies, which need to be filled.
Besides these weighty issues, Parliament staff is also grappling with problems that are more mundane.
The Kantipur daily reported that the House of Representatives secretariat is desperately trying to outfit its marshals with the necessary uniforms in time for Friday's deadline. And more than half of Parliament's fleet of 65 cars are not in working condition.
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