Maoists give up claim to Nepal president’s post

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS,

Kathmandu : Faced with steadfast opposition from the other major parties, Nepal’s Maoists Thursday decided to abandon their claim to the post of president but said they remained firm on the other contentious demand for an amendment to the constitution.

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The political deadlock that had gripped Nepal since the election two months ago eased slightly following the former rebels’ announcement that they would not demand the two top posts in the government.

The central secretariat of the party, with its front-ranking members, held a five-hour meeting at party chief Prachanda’s residence in the capital Thursday and decided to make the concession.

“We had wanted an executive president,” Maoist lawmaker Post Bahadur Bogoti told the media after the marathon meeting. “However, since the other parties insisted on a ceremonial president, we decided to concede the post.”

However, the Maoists are ready to oppose any bid by Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala or his Nepali Congress party to grab the post for him.

“Since the president is ceremonial, the top party leaders shouldn’t be given the post,” Bogoti said. “We are proposing that the president be chosen from the civil society or prominent citizens.”

On May 28, Nepal’s newly elected constituent assembly formally abolished monarchy, proclaiming Nepal a federal republic.

Since deposed king Gyanendra had been the constitutional head of state in the past, with his ouster, the nation has been without a head.

The appointment of a president was halted with the Maoists staking claim to the post, saying that as the largest party after the election, they should be given both the posts of president and prime minister.

The deepening feud led to the former guerrillas finally threatening that they would quit the coalition government if Koirala did not resign.

Though the deadline given to Koirala has expired, the Maoists have not carried out their threat to start a new street agitation since the newly elected constituent assembly is scheduled to hold its second meeting later Thursday and any disruption would go against them.

But while capitulating on the issue of president, Bogoti said his party had not changed its view that the current constitutional proviso about removing the prime minister should remain the same.

Currently, the premier can be sacked only if two-thirds of the lawmakers agree.

But the other parties are demanding that it be brought down to simple majority so that they can keep a Maoist government on a tight leash.

“The focus of this constituent assembly should be drafting a new constitution,” Bogoti said. “We don’t want it to drift away with the parties beginning their old trick of trying to topple the government.”

The persisting differences have come in the way of giving full shape to the much-awaited assembly.

It needs to have 26 more members nominated. Though the nominations were to have been made by May 28, the parties failed to do so due to their squabble over power-sharing.

Consequently, the chief of a fringe party has moved Nepal’s Supreme Court, asking it to strike down the republic proclamation, contending that it was unconstitutional since the assembly did not have the full 601 members.

With the parties remaining at loggerheads, it is doubtful if the assembly would be able to draft a new, pro-people’s constitution in two years.