Nepal Maoists snub Koirala ahead of house battle

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS

Kathmandu : Ahead of a looming confrontation with the government, Nepal’s Maoists snubbed Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala and the dominating party in the ruling coalition, virtually boycotting a traditional ceremony that symbolises reconciliation.

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Koirala and his Nepali Congress party, the biggest in parliament with 132 MPs, hosted a tea party in the capital Friday as part of the ongoing festivities. The tradition was begun by Koirala’s brother B.P. Koirala, Nepal’s first elected prime minister, to mark his return from exile in India.

Most of Nepal’s major parties hold an annual tea party after Dashain, the biggest Hindu festival in the country, where the guests include ministers, top bureaucrats, foreign envoys and the who’s who of Nepal.

The Friday gathering, held at a venue where international meets take place, was one of the biggest, also celebrating the unification of the party with its breakaway faction after five years.

However, the Maoists were conspicuous by their absence. Barring two rebel MPs, none of their top leaders turned up though they were in Kathmandu.

The Maoists, who quit the government last month, said their leaders were too busy to attend. The snub came days before a looming confrontation between the rebels and Koirala.

On Monday, after a long holiday hiatus, Nepal’s parliament will resume a debate on new Maoist demands.

The rebels are asking for the immediate abolition of monarchy on the floor of parliament and a fully proportional election system that is likely to improve their chances at the election.

Koirala has rejected both demands. He enjoys the support of the international community, who have warned him that a parliamentary decision to scrap the crown would not be accepted by them since it is not an elected parliament.

If the warring sides fail to reach an understanding soon, the debate will give way to a vote.

If two-thirds of the MPs agree, the vote will mean the end of the road for embattled King Gyanendra. However, the Maoists, though the second largest party in the house with 84 members, are unlikely to win unless some of Koirala’s MPs support them.

If they lose, the rebels have threatened to start a new revolt that would unleash fresh disruptions and chaos.

Besides the Maoist demands, Koirala is also facing mounting pressure from major donors, including India, to hold the stalled constituent assembly election at the earliest.

India warned Koirala that his government was losing credibility and legitimacy by its continued failure to hold the election, regarded as a key step to restoring peace and stability in Nepal.