Even as Nepal's Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala pledged that the twice-deferred critical election would be held without fail in November, Maoist guerrillas said the polls should be put off till next year as they had been "backstabbed" by the political parties.
With less than three months left for the November 22 constituent assembly election, Maoist chief Prachanda has proposed that the exercise be now held in April 2008 so that it would be "real" instead of being a mockery it would be if held this year.
Speaking at a public programme here on Friday, Prachanda finally put into words what Nepali analysts and political leaders had been fearing all along that the Maoists are fearful of doing badly at the polls due to the militant activities of their trade, youth and student wings, and so are trying to buy time.
An internal poll conducted by one of the leading parties in the coalition government, the Communist party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist, reportedly predicts that the rebels would not muster more than 10 percent votes due to their growing unpopularity.
The recently concluded meeting of Maoist representatives also indicates mounting differences in the party and dissatisfaction with the current leadership.
Prachanda, however, is defending his proposal to defer the election on the ground that with hundreds of supporters missing since the start of their "People's War" and their families facing hardships, it would be inhuman to ask them for votes instead of rehabilitating them first.
He is also demanding a round table conference with the representatives of the various groups currently holding separate protest movements so that the disputes are addressed before the election.
Finally, the rebels are also urging the government to abolish monarchy before the election, alleging that the polls would not be free and fair as long as King Gyanendra held a vestige of power.
The Maoist proposal comes as Nepal's major donors, including India, the European Union and US, said the government would lose its credibility if the elections were postponed yet again.
The government failed to hold it in June due to the fragile security situation as well as lack of preparations.
On the occasion of India's Independence Day on August 15, the Indian ambassador to Nepal, Shiv Shankar Mukherjee, had warned that the polls should not be postponed on any excuse.
The Maoists, who were the first to demand the election in 1996, now want it to be postponed due to growing public dissatisfaction, especially after a series of illegal and violent activities by their youth wing, the Young Communist League, their trade unions and the student wing.
The rebels have also lost their support base in the Terai plains in the south due to the emergence of a Terai party, the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum.
If the election had been held last year, when King Gyanendra had just been stripped of his power and was immensely unpopular, the rebels would have been able to cash in on the public anger against the king.
Prachanda said when his party signed a peace pact last year and ended a decade long insurgency, the parties had agreed to hold the election in November. However they "backstabbed" his men and first put off the exercise in June 2006, which was again postponed.
It was on the cards that the Maoists would try to stall the polls after they announced they wanted the abolition of the monarchy before the election and for threatening a series of shutdowns if their demands were not met.
On Wednesday, two of their sister organisations called a general strike in the Kathmandu Valley as well as over nine districts.