Maoists Block Deal to Break Nepal's Long Political Deadlock

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NEW DELHI -- Nepal's major political parties failed on Tuesday to complete an expected agreement to settle a years-long political standoff, after Maoists insisted that the accord include amnesty for past crimes.

The amnesty issue derailed a tentative deal reached on Monday to appoint as interim prime minister the chief justice of the country's Supreme Court, Khil Raj Regmi, to lead Nepal until elections in June. Now it appears that the wrangling will continue indefinitely, worsening the paralysis of the country's civic functions.

Nepal has been trying to establish a working representative democracy since 2008, when a constituent assembly was elected to replace the former monarchy. But the assembly has been unable to draw up a constitution or settle on when or how to hold further elections. Maoists, who fought a long civil war against the monarchy, now control the most important government posts, but the ethnic, caste, religious, ideological and regional differences that permeate Nepalese society have made even the most basic political agreements impossible.

Meanwhile, the country's judiciary has been arresting former Maoist fighters from the bitter civil war, which cost at least 13,000 lives, prompting the Maoist party to call for amnesty and for a less punitive reconciliation process, such as a parliamentary committee that the party could influence.

"Amnesty is still under consideration," said Devendra Poudel, adviser to the present Maoist prime minister, Baburam Bhattarai. "Instead of addressing one or two issues separately, why not deal with them all in the same package?"

But the country's other political parties and civil-society organizations have insisted on a process in which war criminals are jailed.

"The Maoists are very much afraid of the regular judiciary of this country," said Rajendra Dahal, a spokesman for President Ram Baran Yadav, a leader of the centrist Nepalese Congress party. "But until there is an agreement, they will control the government," he said of the Maoists. "So they benefit from the standoff."

Mr. Dahal said that the president had welcomed the tentative deal to put the chief justice in charge temporarily. "The president's single mission is to have elections," he said early Tuesday. "Any way the parties get some consensus in the goal of having elections, the president will support."

By late Tuesday evening, however, the optimism surrounding the tentative agreement had faded.

Kanak Mani Dixit, a civil rights activist and commentator, said he was worried that the Maoists supported the deal in hopes of discrediting the Supreme Court, which he said is the last civic institution in Nepal with any credibility.

"The Maoists agreed because they have already destroyed every other important institution of the state," Mr. Dixit said.

Mr. Regmi was expected to be appointed to a three-month term as prime minister, after which he would return to the court. If Mr. Regmi had been unable to oversee elections in that time, a new agreement would have had to be reached.

The Maoist leader, Mr. Bhattarai, rejected all previous proposals to replace him, and other political parties have refused to allow elections while Mr. Bhattarai and his allies hold the crucial levers of government, saying that his oversight would make the elections unfair.

In the meantime, basic civil functions in Nepal have begun to fail one after another, and the country's economy, never robust, has stalled. As a result, Nepalis have been emigrating to neighboring countries in large numbers, to the exasperation particularly of India, where many of the migrants settle.

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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