Nepal PM defies Maoists, refuses to quit

July 31st, 2011 - 8:26 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, July 31 (IANS) Given an ultimatum by his own allies, the Maoists, to reshuffle the cabinet by Sunday night or face the withdrawal of their support, and pressured by the opposition to quit, Nepal’s beleaguered Prime Minister Jhala Nath Khanal remained defiant, saying he would not step down.

Instead, the communist prime minister spent Sunday making last-ditch attempts to save his five-month-old government, holding repeated parleys with the opposition as well as allies.

The main opposition Nepali Congress was unwavering in its demand that Khanal, who became the prime minister in February after signing a secret deal with the Maoists, must resign.

The top leadership of the Nepali Congress made this clear at a morning meeting with Khanal. Later in the day, its MPs kept up their blockade of parliament, which they began obstructing since this month to ratchet up pressure on the premier.

Khanal, however, remained defiant, saying he would not quit till the major parties were able to name a new prime minister who was acceptable to all.

This has remained a contentious issue since the fall of the elected Maoist government in 2009, which forced the subsequent prime minister, Khanal’s own party leader Madhav Kumar Nepal, to resign.

At that time, the campaign for Nepal’s resignation was led by the Maoists as well as Khanal himself.

Now it is payback time for Khanal, who faces a similar situation.

Besides the opposition, he is also under threat from the Maoists, the very party that helped him win the prime ministerial election barely four months back in February.

The Maoists are demanding that Khanal induct 24 ministers from their party by Sunday night or face the withdrawal of their support.

To show they mean business, the former rebels Saturday pulled out from the cabinet their 12 ministers, who submitted their resignations en masse.

Though reports from the Maoists said that Khanal had shown flexibility during the two rounds of talks he held with Maoist chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda Sunday, the fate of the government remained uncertain.

Prachanda held a surprise press conference Sunday afternoon, defending his party against allegations that it was waging a war for power at the cost of the peace process and the new constitution, which has to be promulgated by Aug 31.

He said the preliminary draft of the statute can be completed by the deadline.

Also under fire for refusing to disband his nearly 20,000-member strong Maoist army, Prachanda said the combatants can be regrouped by Aug 31.

It would mean regrouping them into three separate clusters: those who want to become part of state security forces, those who are ready to be rehabilitated, and those who would like to go abroad for employment.

Though the Maoist army was to have been disbanded within six months of the signing of the peace accord in 2006, the process has remained halted due to doublespeak by the Maoist leaders.

Since 2008, Nepal has seen four governments in three years with none able to take the peace process forward or to conclusion.

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

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