Nepal poll not possible by June 20: Election Commission
Apr 13, 2007 - 4:12:24 PM

Kathmandu, April 13 - Nepal's peace process received a major blow Friday with its Election Commission saying it would be impossible to hold the crucial constituent assembly election by June.

On April 1, when Nepal's government was sworn in with the Maoists as partners, the eight-party ruling alliance said the key election - that will decide if Nepal will keep its 238-year-old monarchy or abandon it for a republic - would be held June 20.

Though several leading politicians, including Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala's own daughter Sujata, who is an influential MP from his Nepali Congress party, and former prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, have been expressing fears that it would be an impossible task in view of the turmoil in the southern Terai plains, the prime minister and the Maoists have set their hearts on a June election.

Maoist supremo Prachanda has repeatedly warned that his party would start another protest movement if the election were postponed.

However, now dissent has come from the Election Commission itself.

Bhoj Raj Pokhrel, the tough new chief election commissioner, told the media Friday that at least 110 days were needed to make arrangements for holding polls after all poll-related laws were formulated.

However, three laws are still pending in the interim parliament though they were tabled more than a month ago.

Besides, there is confusion about election constituencies.

A new commission, formed to advise the government on poll constituencies, Thursday recommended that they be increased from the existing 205 to 240 to give greater representation to communities that have been neglected so far.

The third key factor is the escalating turmoil in the Terai plains with several ethnic groups demanding autonomy and better representation.

Though the government has formed a three-member ministerial team to hold talks with the protesting groups, it is yet to make any headway. One of the groups has called a three-day shutdown from April 20, raising fears that the disruptions would continue even during the election.

The poll panel sent a letter to the prime minister Thursday, conveying its decision. As the new council of ministers began a meeting Friday to discuss the new twist, the poll panel decided to go public about its action.

The last more or less free and fair general election was held in 1999.

Koirala, who became prime minister for the sixth time, has made the poll a prestige issue, saying he would quit if he were unable to hold the exercise by June 20.

The Maoists are also opposed to a postponement, attributing any delay to a conspiracy by King Gyanendra to sabotage the poll that would seal his fate.

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