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Last Minute Moves

As the May 28 Constitution deadline draws closer, last-minute moves are afoot on what should follow. Desperate to hold on to the ‘legitimate’ tag of the largest party, the Maoists are out to go to any length to extend the life of the Constituent Assembly. Prime minister Jhalnath Khanal is okay with the idea, but not his powerful rivals within the UML. The Nepali Congress too is not keen. It is bargaining hard to get the Maoists on their board of democracy and peace process. No time could be better for it than now to fleece the former rebels. The hectic political activities at the eleventh hour could either result in a national government and a further extension of the CA or a free-for-all. The first scenario looks more likely.


As soon as Jhalnath Khanal went out of the country for his first foreign tour as the head of the government, his mentor got into action to oust him from the office. Even before Khanal left the VVIP lounge at the only international airport to board the Istanbul-bound flight, Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ dashed to a residence of a UML businessman at Baneswor. Waiting there were Khanal’s two bête noire, his predecessor Madhav Kumar Nepal and a successor-aspirant, K.P.Oli.  Prachanda later at a different venue shared many cups of tea with the leaders of the main opposition Nepali Congress.

In all the meetings, Prachanda not only found fault with the man he made prime minister, he admitted of making a mistake by propelling the UML chief to the top executive office.

He complained that Khanal embarrassed him by taking a number of actions without consulting him. Khanal, according to him, ignored his suggestion to not to go on foreign tour at a critical time ahead of the constitution deadline.

Prachanda’s confessions of ‘mistakes’ with the men he once labeled ‘foreign stooges’ and ‘puppets’  were not merely meant to criticize Khanal. What he was aiming was a further extension of the constituent assembly that was to die its natural death two weeks later.

Having forced his views through the party’s central committee for “the peace process and the constitution making” in place of the popular revolt, Prachanda has now sought to assure the UML and the Congress leaders that he was committed to “a democratic constitution”. For this, however, he maintains that the CA should not let die without completing the task.

Said his trusted vice chairman Narayan Kaji Shrestha ‘Prakash”, “the meetings were aimed looking for a basis to forge a consensus among the three big parties and give a message to the people that the constitution was possible after the extension of the CA.”

But the uncertainty remains. Even now. With just a few days away from the constitution deadline. Said a Nepali Congress leader, “the basis for a consensus with the Maoists can come about only after the Maoists put into practice what they pledged – on peace and constitution.”

It is not that nothing has moved forward. The Nepali Congress and the UML have been somewhat positive after Prachanda expressed the commitment to a democratic constitution and the combatant management. This has increased the chances of the extension of the CA.

If the top leaders of the three parties were to be believed, prime minister Khanal will step down in a week’s time from now. As a caretaker government takes over, the regrouping and the number of the Maoist combatants will be finalized and the Maoists’ public declaration of commitment to a democratic constitution will follow. This will pave the way for the extension of the CA.

Last year, the Maoists had put conditions to the other two big parties for the extension of the CA. The tables have turned now. If the Maoists had called for the resignation of the “foreign puppet” prime minister Madhav Kumar Nepal last year, this time the Nepali Congress and an influential section of the UML are calling for the ouster of prime minister Khanal for a consensus government and a firm commitment from the Maoists on acting on their promise of a democratic constitution and peace process.

A reliable source told NEW SPOTLIGHT that Prachanda is hell bent on reaching an agreement on extending the CA because of the pressure from within to let the CA dissolve and prepare for a popular revolt. Prachanda realises that such a move will be suicidal for the largest party in the CA. “He is closer to an agreement with the other parties.”

But the other parties will find it difficult to trust the Maoists.  They will continue to suspect the Maoists’ commitment to combatant management and the democratic constitution merely as a lip service. Critics point out that such a policy does directly contradict with the communist ideology of the former rebels.

To take these parties and the international community into confidence, Prachanda will have to risk a vertical split in the party to keep the dissenters away as a splinter faction otherwise he runs the risk of indulging in manipulative politics with the other parties.

The largest political party of the country with 19000 combatants under its belt is faced with a hard choice, as the clock ticks.

The last minute moves ahead of the constitution deadline hover around what it does and what it does not.

The Nepali Congress is no mood to oblige the Maoists on extending the CA without a credible change in what the Maoists think and do. The Madhesi parties have already warned of resignation en masse.

There are however some apprehensions. The Nepali Congress and the Madhav Nepal-Oli faction of the UML suspect that the Maoists and the prime minister Khanal may go for fresh polls if they failed to muster the two-thirds majority necessary for the CA’s extension.

Their suspicion is based on ambiguity about the status of the incumbent government in the constitutional vacuum after May 28.

Although nothing can be predicted at this point of time, the continuation of Khanal as prime minister is increasingly looking unlikely. It is not nor thing that senior Maoist leader Baburam Bhattarai has been calling, and holding secret talks, for a national government comprising of the big three.

Prachanda is not averse to the idea. The only thing he wants to be sure is that he should lead the new government. That is one thing, however, which is not sure yet. Hence uncertainty continues even at the eleventh hour, although a last-minute three-party agreement on extending the CA for a few months appears on the cards.

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