Maoists to lead coalition government in Nepal

April 14th, 2008 - 11:46 am ICT by admin  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, April 14 (IANS) With Nepal’s Maoist party continuing to consolidate its conquests on the fourth day of vote-counting following a historic poll, the former guerrillas were headed to become leaders in a new coalition government, marking a sea change in the turbulent Himalayan nation’s political landscape. “Everybody should accept that we, being the largest political party, have the right to lead the next government,” said Baburam Bhattarai, the former rebels’ deputy chief and largest vote gatherer in Thursday’s crucial constituent assembly election.

By Monday morning, the once underground party hunted down as terrorists had captured 80 of the 153 seats declared so far, far outpacing Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s Nepali Congress (NC), once the biggest in parliament but now struggling with 26 seats.

Another former heavyweight, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML), has managed to get only 24 seats so far.

The Maoists were leading in most constituencies where counting was on, with the top leaders of the other parties biting the dust.

The losers included Nepal’s powerful home minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula, who played a key role in negotiating peace with the Maoists two years ago, finance minister Ram Sharan Mahat, former prime minister Surya Bahadur Thapa and two ex-deputy PMs, Bharat Mohan Adhikari and K.P. Oli.

Kamal Thapa, leader of the only big royalist party and home minister during King Gyanendra’s absolute rule, lost his deposit and his party was wiped out for supporting monarchy at a time people were yearning for radical change.

Bhattarai, who won with the highest number of votes from Gorkha, the traditional home of Nepal’s embattled Shah dynasty of kings, told the media that while the Maoists favoured a presidential system of government with the president as the executive, the constitution would have to be amended for such a transformation.

“Our intention is to establish a presidential system,” he told a local daily. “We must reach a political consensus. In case of political differences, we may have to follow the present form of government.”

As the top leaders of the party began consultations as to who should lead the new government, Maoist chief Prachanda met incumbent prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala Sunday night to discuss the developments.

Prachanda has pledged to retain a coalition government and work in cooperation with the other parties till a new constitution is written, a task that the seven-party alliance in the past promised to complete in two years.

However, one of the leading partners of the ruling coalition said it was quitting after its poll debacle.

Smarting under a severe drubbing, the UML said it would recall its ministers from the Koirala cabinet while party chief and former deputy premier Madhav Kumar Nepal resigned after losing from both his constituencies.

The UML has five ministers and two junior ministers in the present government.

Koirala, who had the support of Nepal’s major donors, including India and the US, was yet to indicate if his party would stay in a Maoist-led coalition.

It was a personal defeat for him with his daughter Sujata, minister without portfolio, his nephew Shekhar Koirala and his cousin Sushil Koirala losing badly in the Terai plains that had in the past been the NC’s bastion.

Nepal’s first-ever Maoist led government would trigger a change in reactions from the world community as well.

The US will now have to re-think its Nepal policy that has still kept the Maoists on the watchlist of terrorist organisations though the rebels laid down arms and joined the government.

India too will have to revise its Nepal policy and look beyond Koirala and the NC.

On the eve of the polls, India’s national security advisor M.K. Narayanan had indicated New Delhi’s support for Koirala and the NC.

Two winning Maoist contestants, Suresh Ale Magar and C.P. Gajurel, have been arrested by Indian police in the past. While Ale Magar was handed over to Nepal despite rights groups’ plea that his life was in danger, Gajurel was sent to prison.

There are still over two dozen Maoists languishing in Indian jails despite the rebels asking for their release ever since they joined the government.

The Maoists, while conciliatory in their victory, indicated that there would be no pact with King Gyanendra.

“The king has to quit the Narayanhity palace immediately after we declare Nepal a republic,” said Bhattarai, whose party had waged a 10-year “People’s War” to abolish monarchy.

“He should leave the palace immediately after the first sitting of the constituent assembly.”

After all the results for the 601-member assembly are announced, the newly elected body has to hold its first meeting in 21 days and seal the fate of King Gyanendra.

The entire procedure is expected to be completed in five weeks.

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