Confidence over arms mgmt growing
By Ameet Dhakal
News Editor, the Kathmandu Post
KATHMANDU, Oct 27 – Nepali Congress (NC) and Maoist leaders are busy giving the finishing touches to political agreements reached and are narrowing their differences over the issue of arms management. The NC and Maoists leaders held a crucial meeting Wednesday to sharpen their understandings on political issues reached during the last summit talks. One political leader involved in the meeting said they have reached agreement on almost 95 percent of the political issues and have even documented this.
The leaders have agreed that the fate of the monarchy will be decided by the first meeting of the constituent assembly. However, the documented agreement doesn’t say whether the decision will be by a simple or a two-third majority. Dr. Babu Ram Bhattarai said that a simple majority of the constituent assembly would take the decision. Though the CPN-UML was insisting on a referendum to decide the issue, one of its leaders said it would not insist on that should the rest of the parties reach a consensus.
NC, UML, Maoists to get ‘almost equal’ seats in 300-member interim legislature
The interim legislative body will have 300 members. NC, UML and the Maoists will have “almost equal” number of members. Currently, the NC has 75 seats in the House of Representatives and the upper house combined while the UML has 73. The Maoists are likely to get the same number of seats in the interim legislative as the UML.
The major political parties will re-nominate all sitting lawmakers in the incumbent House of Representatives and the National Assembly. They will also nominate some of the senior Seven-Party Alliance (SPA) leaders who are not in the present parliament, but sitting lawmakers who supported “regression” will not be nominated to the interim legislative body. The interim legislature will be automatically dissolved after the first meeting of the constituent assembly.
23-member interim cabinet, 5 ministries each to NC, UML, Maoists
The interim cabinet will have about 23 members. Excluding the prime minister, the NC, UML and Maoists will get five ministries each. NC (D) will get 3 to 5 ministries. The rest will be divided among other parties. The division of portfolios hasn’t been fully discussed yet.
425-member constituent assembly
The Constituent Assembly (CA) will have 425 seats. The CA election will be of mixed proportionate type. 205 members in the CA will be directly elected from the existing constituencies, another 204 will be nominated by the political parties in proportion to the popular votes they garner during the CA polls. For the 204 seats, the leaders have agreed to consult election experts if double ballot polling would be a better alternative. The prime minister will nominate the remaining 16 members. The CA will also function as the legislature for about two years until full fledged parliamentary elections takes place.
On CA polls, the Maoists and the UML had favored a proportionate system but the NC wanted a direct vote. In the end a compromise was reached with mixed proportionate elections.
King’s property to be nationalized
Dr Shekhar Koirala, one of the key NC negotiators, said the NC and the Maoists have also reached and documented a crucial agreement on the issue of royal property. According to him, property that belonged to the late King Birendra and his family will be put under a trust, and it will be used for welfare activities. The property inherited by King Gyanendra by virtue of ascending the throne will be nationalized. However, the king’s personal property will remain with him. This means properties like Narayanhiti Palace and Nagarjuna Palace will become national property while shares in Hotel Soaltee and the like will remain with the king’s family. Similarly, the leaders have also agreed that the two daughters of the late Princess Shruti will get some share of the late King Birendra’s property. However, this agreement has not been documented.
On the citizenship issue, the NC and the Maoists are on the same page while the UML has a slightly different take. The NC and Maoists want all those born in Nepal before 1990 or have been residing in Nepal since then to be eligible for Nepali citizenship. The UML wants 1979, the year of the national referendum, as the cut off year. “But that’s not a big issue and an agreement will be reached without any difficulty,” said a UML leader.
When asked if it was true that the aforementioned political agreement had been reached, Dr. Bhattarai said, “We haven’t exactly sealed the deal but what you said is true.”
But there is one caveat to the above agreement: All the parties have agreed to these political deals provided they will be part of a comprehensive package that will address the arms issue. Both Dr Bhattarai and Dr Koirala said this agreement will have no meaning if the parties and the Maoists fail to agree on the issue of arms management.
Arms management still tricky
The NC and Maoist negotiators have not made any tangible progress on the technicalities of arms management. The only thing they have agreed after the last summit talks is to form a Commission (or a Committee) under the cabinet that will work on the issues of reform in the Nepali Army, integration of the rebels into the national army and rehabilitation of the remaining combatants.
But there seems to be growing confidence that they can reach an agreement. Dr Koirala said, “Talks on the issue are also very positive.” Asked when the country should expect a breakthrough, he said, “We have agreed that we should start a new political calendar by the first of Mangsir (November 17) but I expect a breakthrough much earlier than that, possibly by next week.”
When asked about the possibility of a comprehensive agreement, Dr Bhattarai said, “We have agreed that the interim government should be in place by mid-November.”
This report originally appeared in today’s issue of the Kathmandu Post
Other reports on the peace process:
‘SPA will not break up at cost of formation of republican front’
BHAIRAHAWA, Oct 26 – The seven-party alliance (SPA) wouldn’t be broken up even if the parties in the alliance have their different views on formation of a “republican front,” a senior minister said Thursday. Stating that the SPA wouldn’t join to any front with the Maoists by weakening the alliance, Minister for Tourism and Culture, Pradip Gyawali talking to reporters in Bhairahawa today said that some of the parties’ refusal to setup a republican front was but natural.
Hinting at Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s recent remarks about his (the PM’s) refusal to opt for the set up of a republican front in the upcoming election to the constituent assembly, Minister Gyawali said, “Though the parties have their rights to remain in their own party positions, neither of the parties will go against the people’s aspirations.”
Minister Gyawali, who is also a government negotiator, said that the high-level talks between the SPA government and the Maoists would begin immediately after PM Koirala and Maoist leaders return to the capital. Urging the Maoists to stop extortions, the minister said that the rebels’ such activities would affect the ongoing peace process. (source)
Maoists abduct NA soldier
UDAYAPUR, Oct 26 – A group of the Maoist rebels abducted Nepali Army (NA) soldier Krishnahari Katuwal, a resident of Taraghari in Katani VDC-2, from the district headquarters Gaighat, Thursday afternoon. Katuwal was returning to local Nandabox Battalion of the NA after celebrating the Tihar festival at his home village.
According to eyewitnesses, the Maoist group forced him to get down from the bus he was traveling in near the Triyuga River and took him to an undisclosed location before blindfolding him. The NA’s Colonel at the Battalion Dr Prem Singh Basnyat said that Katuwal was freed just on Wednesday night by the Maoists shortly after his abduction from his house the same day.
Katuwal’s family source said that the rebels had been pressurizing him to quit the job and to join their militia. Meanwhile, our Khotang correspondent said that an NA soldier Dinesh Rai, who was abducted by the Maoists from his home at Dumli in Chiuridanda, came into contact of the NA barracks at Mudhe. He was reportedly taken away by a local Maoist brigade commander, Dhiren Budhathoki, as he had gone to his village to celebrate the Tihar festival on Tuesday. (source)