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Story Publication logo June 4, 2010

Nepal: Marred by Disagreements, Country Heads Deeper into Crisis



Nepal is in the midst of historic change, from the abolition of a centuries-old monarchy to the re...

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Anup Kaphle, for the Pulitzer Center, Kathmandu, Nepal

(Above: Maoist supporters took to the streets last week demanding the resignation of current Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal.)

If understanding the political upheaval in Nepal seems confusing, that is because it is.

Last week, Nepal made a narrow escape from what could have been a massive political catastrophe. Five minutes before midnight, leaders of three major political parties signed an agreement to extend the life of the parliament until next year, after failing to come up with the new constitution within the set deadline of May 28.

But having teetered at the edge of a political crisis once, Nepalis doubt the likelihood of getting a new constitution in a year, a task that did not get done in the last two.

"I would line up all 601 members of the parliament on the edge of a cliff and push them off," says Gopal Dhami, who has been driving a taxicab in Kathmandu for the last 17 years. "We know they are not getting anything done in the next year as well."

Dhami's sentiments represent two major problems – frustration and lack of trust – in the country five years after the Maoists agreed to give up their arms and joined mainstream politics, ending a decade-long insurgency.

Major disagreements among the Maoists and other political groups have made any significant decisions almost impossible. If breaking an impasse between leading political parties sounds like a gargantuan task, consider the goal of restructuring an entire country in a new constitution. As one political analyst put it, the country is only postponing its crisis.

Five days after reaching an agreement to extend the life of the parliament, Maoists have continued to press for the resignation of Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal, upon which they hope to build a national government of consensus. But mainstream political parties have accused the Maoists of selfishly focusing on leading the new government, and having no genuine interest in fulfilling the demands of the peace process.

Major parties have asked that the Maoists dismantle the paramilitary structure of Young Communist League (a group that has been reportedly involved in extortion and threats throughout the country), return all properties seized during the insurgency and determine the number of combatants to be integrated into national security forces – neither of which the Maoists have addressed yet.

"How do you trust a political party which refuses to give up their armed outfit?" said a senior leader of Nepali Congress, a leading political party. "As long as they choose to keep their own army, we don't see the possibility of a long term peace."

Integrating and rehabilitating former Maoist combatants or the People's Liberation Army has become one of the biggest issues. Major political parties say a political party cannot continue to keep its private army.

But Mohan Baidhya, a senior Maoist leader has instead toughened the party's stance and threatened that the prime minister's failure to resign within five days of the deal would result in "serious crisis."

What will be the nature of this "serious crisis," even Maoists themselves cannot specify. While political parties continue to attempt to coax the Maoists, and the Maoists have refused to tone down their rhetoric. Saved from a massive political crisis last week, Nepalis fear slowly being pulled back into the brink if mistrust among political parties continues at its current pace.

If what is happening in Nepal still sounds confusing, that is because it is. Nothing describes the political mood in the country better than listening to local news programs to find words like "urged," "accused" and "warned" consume most of the headlines.

"It's frustrating to end one day after the other with hollow hopes," lamented Dhami, the taxi-driver. "It would be nice to wake up and let the radio tell you for once that all is well."

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