Maoists to join new Nepal government

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS,

Kathmandu : Nepal’s Maoist party, who had backed communist leader Jhala Nath Khanal to power a fortnight ago but then threatened to withdraw support following a row over ministries, is finally set to join the new government after getting its own way.

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Maoist chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda, who exited from the prime ministerial race this month to pave the way for Khanal’s victory, met the new premier Wednesday to discuss the allocation of ministries, indicating his party would join the new government.

Soon afterwards, Khanal met President Ram Baran Yadav to apprise him that the cabinet would be expanded by this week.

Maoist sources said the former guerrillas are seeking 11 ministries, including the foreign ministry.

Maoist MP and former deputy chief of the party’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Barsha Man Pun Ananta is now poised to become the new minister for home affairs, the key ministry that became a bone of contention between Khanal and the Maoists.

Khanal’s own party, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist, has been opposing handing over the home and defence ministries to the former guerrillas, saying it would lead to cases being dropped against the Maoist cadre for murder, torture and other crimes committed during the 10-year insurrection.

The tussle prevented the new prime minister from forming a full cabinet.

Even 13 days after he was elected, Khanal heads just a four-member cabinet where all the ministers are from his own party. Only one of them, Bharat Mohan Adhikary, who is also the deputy prime minister, has been allocated a ministry — that of finance — while the rest remain without portfolio due to the cold war with the Maoists.

Besides demanding the home ministry, the Maoists had also been demanding that the new premier obey an accord he signed with them on the eve of the prime ministerial election to win their support.

The contentious agreement says a new security force will be formed to accommodate the nearly 20,000 PLA fighters who are yet to be demobilised, five years after the rebellion ended. It also agrees that the government will be headed by the Maoists and communists by rotation.

These conditions have been rejected by Khanal’s own party as well as the Nepali Congress, once Khanal’s ally but sitting in opposition now since he deserted them to side with the Maoists.

To defuse the new crisis, Khanal and Prachanda signed a fresh agreement Tuesday, trying to paper over the contentious agreement.

The new accord, the second in two weeks, says the fate of the PLA will be decided by a special committee that will follow the decision of all the major parties. It also agrees the government will be led by a national consensus.

However, the Maoist thaw does not indicate an end to Khanal’s woes.

As an ally, they may prove to be worse than enemies as indicated during the new government’s attempt to pass the budget.

The Khanal government had to gain parliament’s endorsement for the budget, which was promulgated by the earlier government through an ordinance after the Maoists opposed it.

On Tuesday, it was the opposition Nepali Congress that supported the budget to bail out the new government while the allies, the Maoists, stayed neutral.

Also, by signing yet another agreement with the Maoists without the knowledge of his party, Khanal has once again angered his rival factions.

The internal bickering became public Tuesday after one of the leaders of the rival faction, K.P. Oli, went to meet Khanal at the latter’s official residence but was turned away by security guards.

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