King Gyanendra of Nepal attended the 13th SAARC meeting in Dhaka as a 'recognised' head of state. Once again, he assured that Nepal would work out a roadmap to usher in a multi-party democracy. He vowed to organize 'free and fair' elections for all 58 municipalities on 8 February 2006 and for the parliament by mid-April 2007. The prospects of the proposed elections and possibilities of the country returning to normalcy needs examination.
The announcement of elections is a tactic of the royal government to convince the international community of its commitment to restore democracy before the important regional meeting - the SAARC summit. Earlier, all the three caretaker governments appointed by the King after the dissolution of parliament in 2002 were removed as they failed to resolve the Maoist problem. Now the royal government is attempting to organize elections without addressing the root causes of the conflict.
After assuming power, the King proclaimed that he would restore multiparty democracy, peace and security in Nepal in a three years period. Meanwhile, the government has been consistently trying to win over the political parties to work under them. However, the present situation has ruled out the possibility of reaching a political and constitutional situation. Now the situation is completely transformed and the political parities would prefer to discuss the republican form of state and the election for a Constituent assembly. Earlier, these demands were proposed only by the Maoists, who are now gaining great support from various sections of the society. These demands are difficult to accept for the royalists, for they would ultimately weaken their position as key political actors. The democratic parties also have been renouncing their belief in a constitutional monarchy.
The ongoing political negotiations between the parties and Maoist leaders puts the royal rulers in a tight spot over the future decisions of the political parties. The Maoists' permission to the political parties to campaign in their strong areas and the political parties appreciation that the, 'Maoists are behaving politically', has strengthened their alliance against the monarchy. Also, both have questioned the legitimacy of the government to organize elections and agreed to boycott and disrupt the election process. Though the government has underplayed the refusal of the parties to participate, an election held without their participation would be meaningless. It will definitely raise the question a 'free and fairness' election process. Since the political parties have secured over 90 per cent votes in the previous election, they are the true representative of the people and a legitimate force in the process of ushering democracy into Nepal.
Some political parties like Rashtriya Jana Shakti have been demanding for a 'conducive environment' to participate in the elections. The political parties are expecting that withdrawal of both the 4 October 2002 and 1 February 2005 proclamations, formation of all-party government and dismissal of recently appointed administrators. These conditions are difficult to meet at this moment when the monarchy is obviously concerned about its own institutional interest and stability. Right wing forces on the King's side are making every effort to sabotage elections or postpone it indefinitely as they will lose their privileges after the elections when the power is transferred to the people.
As debate over the future of elections continues, the Election Commission (EC) has already started the process of registration and claimed that 72 political parties have registered so far. The EC's drastic measures to conduct the elections have created confusion among the parties. Even major political parties like the Nepali Congress (NC) said that it would register with the EC to retain their party's symbol and name. Though the EC has assured free and fair elections, and an international observer groups to monitor the elections, doubts remain over the impartiality of the process. Obviously, the elections are important for restoration of democracy, but the process will not be democratic under any institution constituted under an autocratic rule.
During the SAARC summit, the King said that the improved security situation has allowed them to announce a date for municipal elections and its successful completion would create an environment conducive to conduct general elections. Even though the parties and the international community believe in bringing the Maoists back to mainstream politics, the prospects of Maoists laying down arms and participating in the general elections along with the political parties seems remote at this moment. The prevailing ceasefire might break-up and conflict can flare up once again. In such a circumstance, can the royal government provide safety and security to the voters across the country? Elections proposed before any reconciliation between players can exacerbate the differences among the conflicting parties.