New Nepal government mired in parliament crises

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS,

Kathmandu : Less than two months after he became the new prime minister of Nepal, courtesy a controversial deal with the former Maoist guerrillas, communist chief Jhala Nath Khanal is battling multiple crises in parliament, with scandals hitting his fledgling government in quick succession.

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The latest scandal erupted this week after Finance Secretary Rameshwar Khanal resigned, triggering allegations by the opposition Nepali Congress (NC) party that he was ousted by Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Bharat Mohan Adhikari on behalf of a caucus of businessmen under investigation for suspected tax frauds.

In an echo of the turbulence in neighbouring India, where parliament was blockaded by the opposition protesting corrupt deals, Nepal’s parliament has been prevented from functioning by storming NC lawmakers. They Friday warned they would not allow the house to function till the prime minister furnished a satisfactory explanation for various controversial government actions.

The turmoil comes even as only 55 days remain for the government to ready a new constitution and promulgate it after missing an earlier deadline last May.

The government also faces a major embarrassment with over a dozen MPs being suspected of involvement in a fake passport racket.

The row erupted in January after two persons were arrested in Abu Dhabi for travelling with passports that were the fakes of diplomatic passports issued to two Nepali MPs, including Gayatri Shah, the youngest legislator in the 601-member house.

Khanal also faces a storm from the underprivileged communities, especially Dalits and Muslims, who are demanding that their rights be safeguarded in the new constitution.

Two MPs representing the communities Friday created pandemonium by hurling their chairs down from the fourth floor and forcing the Constitutional Committee, which is drafting the constitution, to postpone its meeting to Tuesday.

Things are equally dismal outside parliament with trade unions enforcing an indefinite industrial strike to press their demands for increased pay and wages.

Though the protesters agreed to suspend the strike for four days from Saturday to facilitate negotiations, investors fear labour strike will increase in the days to come.

Faced with non-cooperation from all other parties except his only ally, the Maoists, Khanal has not been able to expand his cabinet which has only eight ministers.

(Sudeshna Sarkar can be contacted at [email protected])