No one wants to face a vote on the Maoist demands, but do the numbers add up?
Maoist demands that scuttled the November elections have come to a head in Nepal, as the two key demands from a slate of 22 approach a vote in the Nepal parliament. The demands – declaration of a republic to replace the monarchy and conversion of the voting system to a proportional ballot – will probably both fail if they come to a vote, but there is still a chance for compromise.
All parties in parliament agreed last year that the final decision on the monarchy would be taken after elections, as the first act of the constitutional assembly formed by the elections. At the same time the parties all agreed on a mixed electoral system, half first-past-the-post and half proportional, with some additional seats to be assigned by parliament.
The Maoists argue that the situation has changed and that elections would not now be “meaningful” unless both their demands are met. It is widely believed that the Maoists fear that they will do poorly in the first-past-the-post phase of the elections, and a victory on ending the monarchy now would certainly boost the party’s electoral campaign.
The center-right Nepali Congress party and Prime Minister Koirala firmly oppose both demands. It is not clear what the center-left UML party’s position is: Its leader was quoted recently in one newspaper as saying that they “reject” the Maoist demands and in another, on the same day, as “not opposing” them.
What is clear is that there is no more time. After a long holiday break filled with negotiations that got nowhere, the Maoists introduced both demands as parliamentary measures. Debate is ongoing, and vote could be forced at anytime. No party really wants that, so last-minute negotiations are underway.
The formula that could succeed is a parliamentary resolution that falls just short of elimination of the monarchy, perhaps an instruction to the constitutional assembly to do so, plus a compromise on the electoral formula. Leaks from the talks suggest that PM Koirala has offered a 65-35 deal, 65 percent of the seats proportional, 35 percent first-past-the-post. The UML has suggested a 75-25 split. The Maoists are standing firm.
Firm is a strong bargaining position. But if the Maoists do force a vote on these two bills, they will probably lose. That will weaken the pragmatic Maoist leaders in charge, for now, of their party. It might force them to withdraw from the parliament, a huge boost to the hardline Maoists. All the parliamentarians, and particularly the ones scurrying away to urgent meetings, want to avoid that, and so compromise remains possible if the numbers add up.
John Child is The NewsBlaze Nepal Correspondent, a journalist in Kathmandu who writes about goings-on in and around Nepal and her neighbors.