Behind Nepal's Impasse

Supporters of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) gather during celebrations of the 2nd anniversary of Republic Day in Kathmandu on May 29, 2010. (Prakash Mathema/AFP/Getty Images)

By Kunda Dixit

KATHMANDU, July 7, 2010 - Since the end of its 10-year insurgent war in 2006, Nepal has been through one of the most dramatic transformations of state structure in recent world history.

It has gone from conflict to peace, from absolute monarchy to republic, leaders of the guerrilla army were elected to government, and Nepal now has the most inclusive elected assembly ever. And, all this happened relatively peacefully.

Elsewhere such wrenching change would, perhaps, have been accompanied by major bloodshed.

But things are now stuck. Because neither side won and neither lost, the two protagonists of the war are warily circling each other for advantage.

At the heart of the deadlock is the inability to come up with a power-sharing agreement between the Maoists and the other two parties: the moderate left UML and the center-right NC.

To the surprise of many, the Maoists emerged in the 2008 elections as the largest party in the assembly. Pushpa Kamal Dahal (who is known by his nom de guerre, Prachanda) became prime minister and the Maoists held key portfolios including finance and defense. But the Maoists lost the support of their coalition partners after barely nine months in power when they tried and failed last year to install their own man as the head of the army, and they resigned.

The Maoists don't have the numbers to form a government on their own, so in the past year they have paralyzed the government and parliament, and have taken to the streets to bring the country to a halt and to force Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal to step down.

When the country missed the May 28 deadline for writing a new constitution, it was extended by a year in a midnight deal under which the prime minister promised to step down, which he did on June 30.

President Ram Baran Yadav had given the Maoists until July 7 to cobble together a new government. But, they haven't mustered the support of the two other parties who want the Maoists to first publicly renounce violence, demobilize its 19,000 guerrillas in UN-supervised camps, and return property seized during the war. Late on July 7, the President extended this deadline by five days.

A major roadblock is that because the Maoists were so effective in indoctrinating their cadre during wartime, they are now either unwilling or unable to de-indoctrinate them.

So, right now there is a stalemate.

The peace process and the new constitution would probably fall into place if the Maoists and the other two parties could come to an understanding on who should be the next prime minister. The trouble is that the three parties can't seem to agree on a candidate, not just among themselves but within their own internal ranks.

The other factor is external. Nepal's giant neighbor to the south, India, doesn't want to see the Maoists leading the government again because of the moral boost this would give to its own growing Maoist insurgency.

Kunda Dixit is the publisher of the Nepali Times newspaper in Kathmandu.