The spectacle of disaster loomed large over Nepal as the Maoist guerrillas' last-ditch talks with Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala failed on Saturday, 48 hours ahead of the rebels' threat to quit the government and start a new revolt, which is certain to affect the upcoming election.
The long meeting between Koirala and Maoist supremo Prachanda, accompanied by his deputy Baburam Bhattarai, failed to break the deadlock, with the rebels sticking to their demand for the abolition of monarchy before the Nov 22 election.
At the end of the meeting, Prachanda strode away towards his waiting car without pausing to speak to the waiting journalists, an indication that the negotiations had not gone his way.
"The talks ended without any results," Bhattarai said. "If our demand is not met, we see no point in staying in the government."
Bhattarai repeated his party's stand that the existence of monarchy was a threat to free and fair polls and so it should be scrapped before through parliament.
Nepal's new constitution has a provision, inserted under pressure from the Maoists, that if two-thirds of the MPs agree, parliament can remove the king.
The Maoists have given the eight-party government till Monday to meet their demand or face the consequences.
"We will go directly to the people," Bhattarai said, referring to his party's announcement that it would start a new protest programme from Tuesday that would culminate in an indefinite closure.
Koirala, who is under tremendous pressure from the international community not to defer the polls or let parliament decide King Gyanendra's fate, reportedly urged the Maoists not to quit the cabinet when the country was passing through a critical time.
On Sunday, the rebels are making a last attempt to cobble a pro-republic alliance and put additional pressure on Koirala. They had planned to hold the round table conference earlier this week but had to put it off after none of the major parties or organisations agreed to attend.
Indian Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon's arrival in Kathmandu on Saturday could have a serious impact on developments in the next couple of days.
It remains to be seen if Menon, who will meet both Koirala and Prachanda during his two-day visit, can suggest a diplomatic solution that will enable the Maoists to abandon their threat without losing face.
Though the Maoists ended their 10-year armed insurgency last year and signed a peace pact with the government, agreeing to participate in an election that would decide if Nepal should remain a monarchy or become a republic, now they are dragging their heels over the polls.
Analysts attribute it to their support eroding after they joined the government.
Despite agreeing to return the public property they captured during the civil war, the rebels are yet to do so. They have continued their assaults on leaders of other parties.
This week, on the eve of the election code of conduct being enforced, they blackened the face of an MP from deposed prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba's Nepali Congress (Democratic) party in Baitadi district in west Nepal, humiliating him in public.