The window of opportunity for peace in Nepal is getting smaller with the Girija Prasad Koirala government failing to reach an agreement with Maoist guerrillas on the new constitution well past the date when it was to be implemented.
On Wednesday, Koirala and the top leaders of the remaining six parties in the ruling alliance are scheduled to begin negotiations with Maoist supremo Prachanda to finalise the new constitution that should have been in place by Nov 26.
The major obstacle in the negotiations, persisting for months, is the fate of King Gyanendra.
Though both sides have agreed to leave the fate of Nepal's 238-year Shah dynasty of kings to a historic election scheduled to take place by June 2007, they still remain deadlocked on who would be the head of state in the new constitution.
The Maoists say the king, who became hugely unpopular after he seized power with the help of the army last year and ruled directly for 15 months, has been stripped of all powers and should not be the new head of state. The position should go to the prime minister or the speaker.
However, Koirala's Nepali Congress party, that is still the most sympathetic towards the king, wants him to remain the head of the state in the new constitution. Its explanation is that the arrangement will be purely a temporary one with the fate of the crown to be decided by the constituent assembly election next year.
Koirala's stand is being opposed by some of his own allies, including the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist.
The octogenarian prime minister created a fresh rift with the Maoists recently by announcing that the new constitution will not come into force till the guerrillas lock up all their arms under the supervision of the United Nations.
Though the UN signed a tripartite pact with the government and the guerrillas earlier this month to monitor the arms and armies of both sides, it will be a long time before it can begin its mission.
A UN technical mission is currently assessing the needs and will submit its report to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, who in turn will place it before the Security Council.
Only after the Security Council's approval can the UN work begin in full steam, which is not likely to be before late January, at the earliest.
Meanwhile, Maoist second-in-command Dr Baburam Bhattarai has warned that if the new constitution is not implemented by Dec 15, there is a strong possibility that the June poll will not be held in time.
Accusing the government of trying to sabotage the poll to save the king, the rebels have warned of a new agitation if the poll is stalled.
Maoist spokesperson and former member of parliament Krishna Bahadur Mahara said in eastern Nepal Monday that though his party will not break the ceasefire and resume its guerrilla war, it may not abide by the peace pact it signed with the government.
The new constitution is vital for new developments because a new government, once it is implemented, will be formed with the Maoists as partners. It is the new government that will organise the constituent assembly elections.
Though the Maoists say they would allow their weapons and soldiers to remain under supervision and not try to intimidate voters, the government would prefer them to disarm before joining the new government.