Parties at odds, peace at risk in Nepal

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By Damakant Jayshi

KATHMANDU, Jan 5 (IPS) - Nepal's walk to peace from a decade-long, Maoist-led bloody insurgency that ended four years ago could take longer than expected.

That is, if the peace process, negotiated between the seven opposition parties and the formerly outlawed Maoist party, does not fail before reaching its logical conclusion - the completion of the new constitution by an elected assembly and the general elections soon thereafter.

The two-year deadline by which the constitution should be written and promulgated is May 2010. But the Constitution Assembly (CA) - tasked to draft the Constitution - has had to revise its calendar, a detailed date-specific progress toward completion of the new Constitution, for the eighth time since it was convened in may 2008.

The growing animosity between and among the political parties has only dismayed the general public. Broadcast media reports, particularly on two local television channels - Kantipur TV and Avenues - have shown people from various walks of life expressing their anger and frustration.

To compound the problem, the parties disagree on all major issues to be incorporated in the Constitution - preamble, fundamental rights, federal model, the number and nature of federal states and distribution of natural resources, to say the least.

Still another challenge is to find an amicable solution to the future of more than 19,000 Maoist combatants living in 28 United Nations-monitored cantonments throughout the Himalayan country.

Their integration into the security forces, especially in the Nepal Army, is turning out to be a major hurdle. The Nepali Congress (NC) and the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist or UML), two of the largest ruling parties, have demanded that integration and rehabilitation take place before the promulgation of the Constitution on May 28 this year.

Most of the non-Maoist parties (leftist, centrist and rightist) have united for the time being against the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (UCPN-Maoist), which they accuse of trying to create anarchy to "capture the state". What has not helped is the aggressive statements and remarks by top leaders of the main opposition party, threatening a revolt if their demands are not met.

The two top leaders - party chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal 'Prachanda' and Dr Baburam Bhattarai have issued threats. 'Prachanda' (translated as the 'fierce one') said the "older parties" (NC and the UML) were preparing for war, and so the Maoists needed to prepare for one as well. More than 13,000 people were killed during the Maoist insurgency.

Similarly, Dr Bhattarai, who is the in charge of the Maoist protest actions, keeps talking about launching another revolt against the state. He has been making remarks about "capturing the state" in Kathmandu as well as in the districts on numerous occasions.

The heart of the problem is power sharing. The UCPN (Maoist), the single largest party in the Constitution Assembly, which also doubles as parliament, is insisting on a national unity government under its leadership.

The dominant sections in the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) or the CPN-UML, which are leading an 18-party coalition, are in no mood to concede. They have instead challenged the Maoists to cobble a majority in the 601-member House and lead the government again, which they had quit in early May 2009. The UCPN (Maoist) has 240 members.