Nepal PM stays on as allies warn of constitutional crisis (Lead)

August 13th, 2011 - 9:57 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, Aug 13 (IANS) Nepal’s embattled Prime Minister Jhala Nath Khanal failed to carry out his pledge to step down Saturday after his allies urged him not to, warning that it would trigger a dire constitutional crisis.

At an emergency meeting held at the communist leader’s official residence late evening, the parties in the coalition government, including the Maoists, and the fringe parties supporting the regime from outside, advised Khanal to stay on in view of a constitutional deadline Aug 31.

The coalition partners said that with the interim constitution’s life ending Aug 31 and the new statute that was to replace it not ready yet, the deadline would have to be extended. But a caretaker government would not have the authority to extend the deadline, which would create a constitutional crisis.

Khanal, whose six-month-old government failed to give impetus to the flagging peace process and the drafting of a new constitution, had publicly announced he would step down in the hope it would pressure the Maoists into making concessions.

Five years after the Maoists signed a peace accord to end their decade-old armed insurrection, their guerrilla army still remains intact. Nepal’s main political parties as well as the international community have been demanding that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) be demobilised before the promulgation of the new constitution.

Prime Minister Khanal had proposed to the Maoist leadership that of the nearly 20,000 PLA combatants, about 7,000 be inducted into the Nepal Army, enjoying no higher rank than colonel.

He also proposed that the remaining combatants be paid a compensation of NRS 700,000 each and be discharged.

Khanal was hoping Maoist chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda would agree to his proposal since his government made major concessions to the former guerrillas about cabinet appointments.

However, Khanal’s hope received a blow Friday when the Maoist leadership met to discuss his proposal on the PLA and rejected it outright.

“We don’t see any need to agree with the plan tabled by the prime minister,” Maoist leader C.P. Gajurel told the media after the meeting. “Also, being the largest party in parliament, the Maoists should lead the government.”

Though a tense Khanal called a meeting with the Maoists and the main opposition party, the Nepali Congress, Saturday, it had not started yet, with the opposition insisting that the Terai parties, the fourth largest bloc in parliament, also be made part of the talks.

“Since the prime minister has said he would resign if the peace progress did not progress by Saturday, he would step down,” said Energy Minister Gokarna Bista, who is a member of Khanal’s Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist.

“However, we are apprehensive that even if he resigns to pave the way for a national government, it might not materialise. Instead, there could be once again a majority government, which would lead to the same political turmoil.”

Nepal seems poised for further turbulence with no clear leadership emerging to head the next government and both the Maoists and Nepali Congress staking their claims to rule next.

If he fails to win over the Maoists, Khanal, the fourth prime minister in as many years, can survive till Monday when parliament convenes and he is bound to be under fire for failing to honour his commitment.

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

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