Discord in Nepal as prime minister claims two-thirds majority

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS,

Kathmandu : Fresh discord erupted in Nepal as beleaguered Prime Minister Jhala Nath Khanal claimed two-thirds majority with the expansion of his cabinet, but his own party men readied to oppose him at a crucial meeting beginning Thursday.

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Khanal, who had been unable to name a full cabinet even three months after coming to power, managed to accomplish the deed finally Wednesday night by appeasing his biggest ally, the Maoists.

Despite protests by his party men, the opposition and rights organisations, he handed over the plum home affairs ministry to the formal rebels, paving the way for the fourth expansion of the cabinet.

The reshuffled cabinet now has three deputy prime ministers, a first in Nepal.

It was a moment of triumph for the Maoists whose MP Krishna Bahadur Mahara was sworn in as home minister, making him the head of the police force that had been the worst victims of Maoist attacks during the 10-year communist insurgency.

Mahara, already a deputy prime minister, handed over the information and communications ministry portfolio that he had been holding to fellow Maoist lawmaker Agni Prasad Sapkota.

The appointment created a rift among the Maoists themselves. In a dramatic movement, Maoist Peace and Reconstruction Minister Barshaman Pun, whose name had also been mulled for home minister, resigned.

Though Pun’s portfolio was immediately re-allocated to fellow Maoist leader Biswanath Shah, three more newly-named Maoist ministers boycotted the oath-taking ceremony Wednesday night, alleging they had been sidelined.

The disgruntled nominees are Jayapuri Gharti Magar (women, children and social welfare), who also said women were not given sufficient representation, and state ministers Hakikullah Khan (land reforms and management) and Dhruva Angdembe Limbu (tourism and civil aviation).

Though three more parties also threw their weight behind the Khanal government, making it claim it had attained two-thirds majority in the 601-member parliament, fireworks are expected soon.

The three new allies are the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum-Nepal, the regional party from the Terai plains, which sent its chief Upendra Yadav as the third deputy prime minister as well as foreign minister, and two fringe parties – the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified and Communist Party of Nepal-Marxist Leninist.

Reacting to the new appointments, the politburo of the PM’s party called a crucial meeting Thursday when Khanal is likely to come under fire.

The publicity chief of the party, Pradip Gyawali, told media that Khanal went against the party decision that the Maoists would not be given the home ministry till they agreed to take the halted peace process forward.

At least two senior leaders from the party, former PM Madhav Kumar Nepal and former deputy PM K.P. Oli, have been indicating they would seek Khanal’s ouster.

The new discord comes at a time the fate of the Khanal government is growing increasingly uncertain.

The government has only 23 days to promulgate a new constitution. However, the statute lies forgotten while the parties continue to fight over power-sharing.

To add to the growing discord, a group of former Maoists has warned it would call an indefinite shutdown from May 28, once the constitutional deadline ends.