Decks cleared for Maoist government in Nepal

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS,

Kathmandu : After a 10-year war to capture power by the gun, Nepal’s Maoists Monday began edging closer to their target with the caretaker parliament clearing the decks for the formation of a new government under their leadership.

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“We will form the new government by this week,” Maoist lawmaker and deputy commander of the party’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Janardan Sharma, better known by his war name Prabhakar, told IANS.

“In the next 48 hours, we expect the election of Nepal’s first president to be held. After that, the new government will be announced.”

The Maoists, who fought an election this year after more than a decade and stunned the world by emerging as the largest party, began hectic consultations with Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s Nepali Congress (NC), the second largest party in the newly elected constituent assembly, as well as other parties for a coalition government.

“Today’s talks will decide if the NC will sit in the government,” Prabhakar said.

However, even if there is no consensus, the Maoists will still be able to go ahead with their plans for a new government as the assembly Sunday night approved of an amendment to the constitution to make their dream of capturing power a reality.

Of the 449 lawmakers attending the session, an overwhelming 442 approved the fifth change to the constitution, which will now enable the prime minister to be elected – and removed – on the basis of a simple majority in the house if there is no consensus.

Though the Maoists emerged as the largest party after the April election, they had not been able to muster the earlier two-thirds majority required.

The almost nine-hour marathon session also saw the house agree that republic Nepal’s first president, who will replace deposed king Gyanendra as head of state, will be chosen by a simple majority vote. However, to remove the president, who would be only a ceremonial head, a two-thirds majority will be needed.

The main communist party, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML), is expected to join the Maoist-led new government.

A strong indication came during Sunday’s vote in the assembly when the UML sided with the Maoists to defeat overwhelmingly the proposal by the prime minister’s party to allow the chief opposition party to send a member to the National Security Council.

Though the election was held on April 10, the inordinate delay in the formation of a new government occurred first due to Koirala’s party refusing to cooperate unless he was made the first president of Nepal.

But mounting pressure both at home and from the diplomatic community made Koirala finally resign last month. The appointment of a Maoist successor was still delayed by nearly a fortnight due to protests by three regional parties from the Terai plains which paralysed the assembly.

The Terai parties, who want the government to create an autonomous Madhes state in the plains, boycotted Sunday’s vote and may in future launch fresh protests.

If that happens, the Maoists will have to wait even longer.

Though the once underground party is holding its silence, it is said to have finalised its list of ministers.

The chairman of the party and the supreme commander of the PLA, Pushpa Kamal Dahal – or Prachanda – has announced his intention to lead the new government.