Nepal’s Maoist government in crisis, allies quit over army row (Roundup)May 3rd, 2009 - 10:11 pm ICT by IANS
By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, May 3 (IANS) Nepal’s first Maoist-led coalition government was plunged into a major crisis after only eight months of its rule when two of its allies quit Sunday after the ruling party took the unilateral decision to sack the army chief, Gen. Rookmangud Katawal.
Ministers from the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML), including the deputy prime minister, tendered their resignations to Maoist Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ after a day-long drama marked by street violence and tension.
Besides the UML, the second-largest party in the ruling alliance that held six key portfolios, a minor partner, the ethnic Sadbhavana Party with one minister also announced its withdrawal of support to the Prachanda government.
The UML has now begun consultations with the main opposition party, former prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s Nepali Congress (NC) to mull forming a new government. The NC says it is backed by 16 other parliamentary parties.
Under fire from both the opposition and its own allies, the Maoists too have begun hectic parleys with other parties to muster support and say they have three fringe parties behind them.
The sudden developments came after a nearly two-month-long stand-off, Prachanda and his party Sunday finally replaced Katawal — just three months before he was due to retire — with senior army officer Lt.Col. Kul Bahadur Khadka, despite objections by his own allies and the international community, especially India.
“The cabinet has decided to remove the army chief since he could not provide a satisfactory explanation to the three charges levied by the government,” Maoist Information and Communications Minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara, who is also the spokesman of the government, said after the cabinet meeting Sunday.
Katawal was asked to explain why did he continue military recruitment despite the government’s halt order and reinstated eight brigadier-generals who had been retired by the defence ministry. He was also rapped over the army pulling out of the National Games when the Maoist combatants too decided to take part.
The four allies of the government - the UML, Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (MJF), Sadbhavana Party and Communist Party of Nepal (United) - however, distanced themselves from the sacking, saying they had asked the Maoists not to take a hasty decision.
Now the main parliamentary parties under the NC have urged President Ram Baran Yadav, who is the constitutional head of the government, to reject the cabinet order.
Yadav, who in the past asked the Maoists to act consensually with the other parties, was reported to have termed the cabinet decision “unconstitutional, illegal and against consensus”.
“The constitution says that all decisions regarding the army have to be made on the basis of consensus,” said legal journalist and author Ananta Luitel.
“Since there was no consensus, the president can either ask the Supreme Court for advice or send the cabinet order to the interim parliament for its decision.”
If the president sends the dismissal order to parliament, it would be put to vote and the Maoists are likely t be defeated.
Though the Maoists have been threatening to remove the president if he opposes the army chief’s dismissal, Luitel said that would be impossible legally.
“The president can be removed only if he is impeached by two-third of the parliament members,” he said. “The Maoists can’t sack him on their own.”
Meanwhile, former army generals said Katawal was likely to challenge his removal in court.
While the leaders planned strategies, violence erupted on Kathmandu’s main thoroughfares as thousands of Maoist cadres, celebrating Katawal’s dismissal, clashed with NC supporters, who began condemning the “Maoist authoritarianism”.
India could once again play a critical role in the new crisis.
In 2006, it was India that helped the Maoists return to mainstream politics after a 10-year armed insurgency. However, the hardliners in the Maoist party have been growing increasingly hostile to India and accusing the neighbour of intervention.
Though New Delhi had sent its ambassador to Nepal Rakesh Sood to meet Prachanda seeral times, asking him not to take any unilateral step about the beleaguered army chief, the advice was rejected by the Maoist hawks.
Now with the Maoist government in danger of collapsing, India could once again have a major role in making or breaking the coalition.
Tags: army chief, army officer, communist party of nepal, dahal, deputy prime minister, former prime minister, girija prasad koirala, krishna bahadur mahara, main opposition party, marxist leninist, military recruitment, nepali congress, parleys, parliamentary parties, prachanda, prime minister girija prasad koirala, pushpa, rei, satisfactory explanation, street violence