Nepal PM’s party men back king, Maoists issue ultimatum

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS

Kathmandu : The long battle in Nepal between the Maoist guerrillas and Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala over the fate of embattled King Gyanendra has received a fresh twist with a group of influential leaders from the prime minister’s party now openly backing the crown and the rebels warning they would oust the government if the feud was not resolved within a week.

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Four former ministers from Koirala’s Nepali Congress party as well as a former speaker Saturday flayed the Maoist demands to sack the king immediately without waiting for the elections and adopt a fully proportional electoral system.

The former ministers are saying the demands would cause the nation to disintegrate.

Taranath Ranabhat, former speaker who was sidelined by the Nepal Congress for having supported King Gyanendra, is lobbying to retain Nepal’s two-century-old monarchy.

“The crown is essential for national unity,” Ranabhat said at a public programme in the capital Saturday. “Any effort to replace him would weaken the Nepali Congress.”

The open support for the king comes at a time the oldest royalist party in Nepal, the Rastriya Prajatantra Party, decided to switch over to a republic from constitutional monarchy.

Former ministers Govinda Raj Joshi, Khum Bahadur Khadka, Bijay Gachhedar and Chiranjivi Wagle as well as senior Nepali Congress leader K.B. Gurung have raised the banner of revolt against the Maoist call for a republic.

They say it is unconstitutional of the Maoists to table the demand for the king’s ouster in parliament since they and the Nepali Congress had agreed to hold a constituent assembly elections to seal the fate of monarchy.

The dissident leaders are also saying that if the government listens to the growing demands by various ethnic communities for autonomy, Nepal will disintegrate.

The revolt is a shot in the arm for the cornered king, who besides running the danger of losing his crown now also faces the prospect of his inherited property, including the royal palace, being taken away by a trust for public welfare.

While new rifts are surfacing in Koirala’s party, his leadership has come under fresh attack with the Maoists warning they would give him till the end of the current Nepali month of Mangsir – which ends on Dec 15 – to sack the king or be sacked himself.

Maoist chief Prachanda warned at a public meeting in Bhairahawa town in south Nepal Saturday that if the Nepali Congress failed to toe the line within a week, the government would be reshuffled.

“There has to be a political consensus within a week,” Prachanda said. “Else, there will be anarchy in the country.”

Nepal’s parliament Sunday resumes the long drawn-out battle royale that started in October after the Maoists left the government with their two demands and tabled them in the house.

They managed to garner the support of the majority of legislators by winning over the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist, the second largest party in the ruling alliance.

However, according to Nepal’s constitution, they need two-third majority, which has been eluding them with the Nepali Congress, the biggest party in the house that can make or mar any proposal, opposing them.