Nepal PM unwell ahead of crucial poll

April 8th, 2008 - 12:43 pm ICT by admin  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, April 8 (IANS) Nepal’s octogenarian Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, whose Nepali Congress party appears to have the tacit backing of the Indian government for Thursday’s critical election, is unwell and has been advised rest by his doctors. The 84-year-old Koirala, a former heavy smoker who suffers from chronic respiratory and chest problems, has been functioning from his residence instead of the Prime Minister’s Office due to his ill health.

Last week, Koirala cancelled an important public meeting at the last moment on health grounds.

The premier, who has replaced King Gyanendra as the head of the Nepal Army, failed to appear at the Ghodejatra festival celebrated by the army last week.

Except for one public appearance in his hometown Biratnagar, he has not taken part in the election campaign after his doctors advised him not to strain himself unduly.

He is also not taking part in the direct fights, being content with being a contestant in the proportional representation system of election in which the party prevails over the candidate.

At a reception given by his office Monday night in honour of the international delegations that have arrived in Nepal to monitor Thursday’s election, Koirala said he was unwell and had come to the gathering despite being advised by his physicians to take rest, Nepal’s official media said Tuesday.

Tuesday would be a gruelling day for the ailing premier with a series of meetings with important foreign dignitaries lined up.

Koirala will meet former US president and Nobel peace laureate Jimmy Carter, who arrived in Nepal Monday with his wife Rosalynn to lead a 60-member delegation of observers from Carter Center.

He is also scheduled to meet Ian Martin, UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon’s special representative for Nepal and chief of the UN Mission in Nepal that is facilitating the peace process by supervising the arms and combatants of the Maoists, and a delegation of European parliamentarians.

Koirala, who despite his failing health is not adverse to becoming the first president of Nepal if the nation becomes a republic after the election, has the backing of the Indian government.

Recently, India’s National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan told a private TV station that India did not know where it stood with the Maoists and hoped for the victory of Koirala’s Nepali Congress.

Koirala’s absence would create a crisis of leadership in Nepal, where he has been able to keep the coalition of seven parties intact, despite frequent infighting.

Also, despite the Nepali Congress’ lip service to a republic, Koirala is regarded as the last defender of monarchy in Nepal, who could have forged a secret understanding with embattled King Gyanendra to retain the nearly 250-year crown in a ceremonial form.

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