From The Economist.
After ten years of insurgency the Maoists laid down their arms and signed a peace deal in 2006. That deal is now on the verge of collapse. The heart of the process is the writing of a new constitution, a long-standing Maoist demand. When a Constituent Assembly was elected in 2008 to write it, the Maoists emerged with an effective veto and twice as many seats as their nearest rival.
Then things started falling apart. A Maoist-led government resigned after less than a year when the prime minister, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, better known as Prachanda (“fierce one”), sacked the army chief as part of a dispute over integrating former guerrillas into the army—only to see him controversially reinstated by the president. With some prodding from India, 22 parties cobbled together an anti-Maoist coalition, but the constitution-writing process stalled. May 28th marks the expiry of the interim charter under which the country has been operating. If there is no agreement to amend it, Nepal will plunge into legal limbo. No one knows what law—if any—will then apply.
Agreement seems remote. The aim is to sign a “package deal” in which—in theory—all sides will have something to show for the concessions that will inevitably be needed. The trouble is this requires tackling the issues that have proved most intractable over the three years of the peace process, notably the integration of Maoist fighters. There is no sign that these problems are getting any easier.
The timing is tricky, too: which steps should be taken before today’s government resigns and which after? The Maoists insist that nothing is possible until the departure of the prime minister, Madav Kumar Nepal. Forming the next government is another headache: the Maoist candidate for prime minister is Prachanda himself, but he is unacceptable to many others, including (it is thought) India.
Then there are deeper problems of trust. Baburam Bhattarai, the Maoists’ deputy leader, calls the government a coalition of elites bent on preserving their power and privileges. “The elites”, he says, do not want to finish writing a constitution, because they know they will lose the election which must then take place.
But to their many opponents, the Maoists have not kept their promises to abandon violence and have not truly embraced democracy. It is certainly true that stick-wielding members of the Young Communist League on the streets of Kathmandu look scary and trade unions allied to the Maoists are often high-handed. On the other hand, killings by the Maoists have become rare even though at least half a dozen of their own members have been murdered since the beginning of the year.
Nor do the ruling parties have strong democratic credentials themselves. The prime minister and one of his deputies lost elections in their constituencies and got into parliament only because there are special seats which the parties fill through nomination. Rumour links ministers from several coalition parties to criminal groups that perpetrate most of Nepal’s violence, as well as to the opium-poppy farming which has recently spread in the increasingly lawless south.
So far the protests have remained mostly peaceful but clashes are occurring, tempers are fraying and hardliners on all sides are itching for a fight. The Maoists draw much support from the young and underemployed—the country’s biggest single group. Having fought for so long, they are not about to fade away now.