Nepal polls called off over Maoist demand
Elections to decide Nepal's future were postponed indefinitely yesterday, ministers said, as government and Maoists squabbled over the fate of the monarchy and election systems.
The polls scheduled for November 22 were a key element of a peace deal sealed last year that ended a civil war launched in 1996 by the Maoists, who are demanding the abolition of the monarchy.
"The seven party leaders (of the coalition government) have agreed to postpone the constituent assembly elections for an indefinite period," Peace and Reconstruction Minister Ram Chanda Poudel told AFP.
Voters were to elect a body to rewrite Nepal's constitution and decide the fate of the Himalayan country's embattled monarchy.
"The government has decided to call a special session of parliament on October 11" to discuss the Maoists' demands, Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat told AFP.
The seven parties in the coalition government issued a joint statement shortly after the postponement was announced, urging impoverished Nepal's donors to continue their support of the peace process.
"We regret the postponement of the elections but we want to assure people that we are committed to hold constituent assembly elections and a new date will be fixed soon," the statement said.
"We hope that the international community and the United Nations will continue their support of the ongoing peace process."
The head of the UN mission to Nepal's peace process said the postponement was disappointing and the political parties and Maoists needed to prepare in earnest for rescheduled elections.
"What is important now is that the political parties maintain their alliance and reach political agreements to create the conditions for a credible constituent assembly election," UN representative Ian Martin said.
"I have no doubt that the UN and member states will remain committed to supporting the Nepal peace process," he added.
As part of last November's peace deal, the UN was invited to supervise Maoist weapons and soldiers who were confined to camps around the country as well as assist in the polls.
A spokesman said Nepal's Election Commission was ready to hold the November 22 polls and the delay was worrying.
"We had everything in place. The decision by the political parties has created a lot of confusion. The election commission is meeting regarding what to do next," said Laxman Bhattarai, the election commission spokesman.
The fiercely republican Maoists have been pushing hard for the immediate abolition of the monarchy as well as the a change to the election system.
After agreeing to polls with a mixed first-past-the-post and proportional representation system, the ex-rebels demanded full proportional voting.
They vowed to disrupt the November ballot if mainstream parties refused their demands.
Analysts say the ultra-leftists have grown fearful of the elections as popular support has plummeted because of their continued strong-arm tactics and bloody unrest in the southern Terai region.
The delay could open the way to further unrest, a political analyst warned.
"The postponement has created an atmosphere of uncertainty and the very legitimacy and credibility of the government has come into question," said Kapil Shrestha, a political science professor at Nepal's Tribhuvan University.
"This will have national and international repercussions," he said.