Maoists give Nepal PM till Tuesday to quit

June 2nd, 2008 - 6:30 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, June 2 (IANS) A fresh political crisis has begun brewing in Nepal with the former Maoist guerrillas, who hold the largest number of seats in the constituent assembly, turning their guns on Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, warning him to quit by Tuesday or face a new street stir. Despite the successful holding of a critical election last month, Koirala and his Nepali Congress party are at loggerheads with the Maoists, who spearheaded an uprising in the former Himalayan kingdom for the abolition of its 239-year-old monarchy.

Maoist supremo Prachanda, who has staked his claim to Koirala’s post, Sunday delivered the ultimatum, asking Koirala to hand over the reins of government by Tuesday or face a fresh street protest from Wednesday.

Koirala’s trusted aide and deputy, Peace and Reconstruction Minister Ram Chandra Poudel retaliated to the threat, saying that the premier would not resign till the former rebels agreed to the demand by the other ruling parties to amend the constitution and dissociated themselves from their armed combatants.

The dispute began with the newly created post of president.

After the newly elected lawmakers voted overwhelmingly last Wednesday to abolish monarchy, the major parties agreed to create the post of a ceremonial president who would take deposed king Gyanendra’s place as constitutional head of state.

The Maoists, who hold 220 seats in the new constituent assembly, say that since they are the largest party, far outnumbering Koirala’s Nepali Congress, that won only 110 seats, they should head the new government as well as be given the posts of both prime minister and president.

They have ruled out offering the post of president to Koirala, saying that since the Nepali Congress performed miserably at the hustings, it doesn’t have the people’s mandate to hold positions of power.

The Maoists’ bid to form the next government has run into difficulty with both the Nepali Congress and the third largest party, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist, opposing it.

The two parties want to scrap the constitutional provision that says the prime minister can be elected or removed if the proposal is supported by two-thirds of the lawmakers.

They are proposing that a simple majority should suffice so that they can topple a Maoist-led government if it veers towards autocracy.

However, the former guerrillas are opposing the change.

“In the past, when Koirala was both head of state and government and could be removed only by two-thirds majority, we agreed to it,” said Maoist Minister for Local Development Dev Gurung.

“Now that things have changed and we have won the election, we should be allowed the same privileges.”

The Maoist claim to a new government is also being supported by the international community, including India.

Though Koirala has predicted that the impasse will be resolved by Monday, when the constituent assembly holds its second meeting, it remains to be seen if his optimism is justified.

The prolonged feud for power has created other difficulties as well.

Though the constituent assembly should have 601 members, at present it falls short of the number.

The fighting parties have failed to nominate 26 more members, which should have been done before May 28, when the assembly proclaimed Nepal a republic at its historic first meeting.

On Monday, Ram Kumar Ojha, a private Nepali citizen, filed a writ in Nepal’s Supreme Court, challenging the proclamation.

Ojha filed his case against the prime minister, constituent assembly secretariat and CA member Kul Bahadur Gurung, who had chaired the first meeting, calling it unconstitutional since it did not have the magic number demanded by the constitution.

Ojha has asked for all orders issuing from the proclamation to be struck down and a stay on all proceedings till the verdict.

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