After army chief, Nepal president in eye of storm

May 4th, 2009 - 3:36 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, May 4 (IANS) After Nepal’s beleaguered army chief Gen Rookmangud Katawal, who came under Maoist fire for alleged disobedience, it is now the turn of the nation’s first President, Ram Baran Yadav, to be in the eye of the storm with both the former guerrillas and their former allies, the communists, accusing him of unconstitutional interference.

Yadav, who replaced deposed king Gyanendra as head of state last year, has angered the ruling Maoist party by refusing to endorse its decision to sack the army chief.

Instead, in a near-midnight drama, Yadav Sunday night sent a letter to the army headquarters, ordering the ousted general to continue as the head of Nepal Army.

The president sent a copy of his order to the Maoist Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda, who however refused to accept it, just as the general had refused to accept his forcible retirement letter earlier.

After the president’s emissary waited at the gate of the prime minister’s official residence for nearly half an hour and then returned without delivering the document, the enraged Maoists accused Yadav of staging a “coup against the constitution”, just as Gyanendra had done four years ago.

“The president is a ceremonial head who does not have the power (to reinstate an official sacked by the government),” senior Maoist leader and Finance Minister Baburam Bhattarai said. “The presidential move is a step against the constituent assembly, the elected government and the Nepali people. We will take action against it.”

The top leaders of the former guerrilla party met Monday to consider whether to seek the president’s impeachment in the interim parliament.

Meanwhile, in a new twist to the unfolding drama, the Maoists’ former ally, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML), Monday said the president’s move to reinstate the army chief had violated the constitution.

The UML decision came as a surprise since the party had pulled out of the coalition government Sunday, reducing it to a minority facing a no-trust vote in parliament.

Former UML minister Ishwar Pokhrel said his party would start consultations with constitutional law experts to decide its next move.

Six UML ministers, including the deputy prime minister, resigned last night to express disapproval of the sacking of the army chief.

However, the main opposition party, the Nepali Congress (NC), Monday said it fully supported the move by Yadav, a former party member, to reinstate the general.

Now the NC is calling for the resignation of Prachanda on moral grounds as his government has lost majority.

Discussions among the main parties are underway to come up with an alternative government.

The Maoist government came to power last August after winning a historic election. Though it was mandated to write a new constitution by next year, Nepal’s political history shows most governments collapsing before completing full term due to internal squabbles.

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