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Stage set for battle royale in Nepal parliament

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS

Kathmandu : Rejecting a plea by Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala to withdraw their demand to oust King Gyanendra and change the election system, Nepal’s Maoists decided to ago ahead with their agenda in parliament Thursday, setting the stage for a battle that is likely to deepen the crisis.

All eyes are on Nepal’s interim parliament, which on Thursday afternoon will witness for the first time in history a vote to decide the fate of the king who plunged his dynasty into danger after he tried to seize absolute power with an army-backed coup.

The Maoists, who fought a 10-year war from jungles trying to overthrow the Shah dynasty of kings, Wednesday took their battle to parliament, registering two proposals that will now be debated in the special session of parliament and then put to vote.

Besides demanding a republic, the Maoists are also pressing for a full proportional election system to improve their chances at the next general election.

With the historic parliamentary session scheduled to start at 4 p.m. Thursday, Koirala began an emergency meeting of his cabinet in the morning.

The meeting comes after three-day consultations among the top leaders of his Nepali Congress party that ended Wednesday with the decision that they would oppose both the proposals tabled by the rebels.

According to Nepal’s constitution, the Maoists need to get the consent of two-thirds of the current 327 MPs or 218 votes to push their demands through.

They have 84 members in the house and the support of three more MPs from fringe left parties.

To swing the vote in their favour, they need the support of the Nepali Congress, the largest party with 112 MPs, following its merger with its dissident faction last month.

However, the vote could be more complicated with some of the parties supporting the demand for a proportional election system while opposing the bid to axe the crown by a parliament vote.

Last year, when the king’s takeover united the opposition parties and the Maoists against him, they had agreed to hold a constituent assembly election.

The election was to have written a new constitution for Nepal and decide the fate of Nepal’s 238-year monarchy.

However, Koirala is regarded as having delayed the crucial election deliberately to allow the anti-king sentiments to cool down.

Fearing the polls will now go against them, the Maoists have been trying to postpone the election.

Last week, the government indefinitely deferred the November election after Maoists walked out of the government and forced the government to call the special house session.

The session is expected to last till Tuesday, when the crucial vote will take place.

With Nepal’s biggest annual festival Dashain starting from Friday, the special session will continue once again on Sunday, when the Maoist proposals will be debated on the house floor.

The vote will follow the debate. However, its outcome is almost certain unless there is a last-minute miracle or catastrophe.

The rebels are likely to suffer a stinging defeat.

If that happens, their chief Prachanda has warned that his party could bring down the Koirala government and pull out of the peace agreement it had signed with the ruling alliance.

Though he has said the guerrillas would not resume arms, they would start a new street movement that is likely to paralyse the country, like it did during the last month of King Gyanendra’s rule.

The alarmed international community and the UN have been urging both sides not to snap off the pact and to announce fresh dates for the constituent assembly election.