Nepal crisis deepens as Maoists refuse to surrender arms

August 22nd, 2011 - 3:28 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, Aug 22 (IANS) The crisis in Nepal deepened Monday as major parties failed to name a new consensual prime minister and the former Maoist guerrillas again refused to hand over their weapons, their chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda predicting that the extended Wednesday deadline to form a national unity government would also fail.

Prachanda, whose Maoist party is seeking to lead the new government, told journalists Tuesday that Nepal was heading towards a majority government once again.

The former revolutionary blamed his rival party, the Nepali Congress, as well as his former ally, the communists, for the deadlock, saying their insistence that the Maoists’ People’s Liberation Army (PLA) be disbanded before Maoists could head the new government had derailed chances of a new all-party coalition.

The presence of a nearly 20,000-strong PLA even five years after the Maoist insurgency ended has been a major shadow over the peace process that saw the former rebels sign a truce in 2006 and return to mainstream politics.

Though the peace accord had seen all the major parties agree that the PLA would be merged with the national army, the integration was halted after Prachanda was found to have wilfully magnified the PLA strength during a UN-conducted verification.

Now, the other parties are saying only about 7,000 PLA fighters would be given berth in the Nepal Army and the weapons of the PLA have to be handed over to the government.

Though Prachanda is said to have privately agreed to the proposal, he has been opposing it publicly after a leadership tussle erupted in his own party with his rival opposing the demobilisation of the PLA.

With the fall of the Maoist-supported communist government this month, the Maoists are now trying to form a new government under their stewardship. So is the Nepali Congress and disagreements between the two largest parties saw them failing to name a new premier by Sunday, the week-long time given by President Ram Baran Yadav for a national government.

On Sunday evening, with the parties saying they would be able to cobble an all-party government if the deadline was extended, the president gave them till Wednesday.

Now it seems the 72-hour extended deadline would also fail with neither the Maoists nor the Nepali Congress ready to compromise.

Should that happen, the president will have to call for a vote in parliament to elect a new PM.

The last time it happened, it took seven months and 17 rounds of polling for lawmakers to elect a new premier. However, prime minister Jhala Nath Khanal was forced to resign Aug 14, with less than six months in office.

The power deadlock threatens to lead to a greater crisis nine days later when Nepal has to promulgate a new constitution or face the dissolution of the interim statute, parliament and the caretaker government.

After having missed two earlier deadlines, the impending Aug 31 deadline will be impossible to meet, leaving the caretaker government with no choice but to try extend it once more despite a Supreme Court stricture against extending the timeframe endlessly.

(Sudeshna Sarkar can be contacted at sudeshna.s@ians.in)

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