New Nepal government totters as ally pulls out over deputy PM (Lead)

June 5th, 2009 - 5:48 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, June 5 (IANS) Within 24 hours of inducting eight new members into the cabinet, Nepal’s new coalition government headed by Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal was plunged into a fresh crisis Friday with a key ally withdrawing support and expelling its lone member in the council of ministers.

Regional party Madhesi Janadhikar Forum, which had been sharply divided on the issue of joining the new communist government, said it had expelled its parliamentary party chief Bijay Kumar Gachhedar, who was sworn in as deputy prime minister as well as physical planning and works minister Thursday, along with six other dissidents for “anti-party activities”.

“The new government is unconstitutional and undemocratic,” said Upendra Yadav, former foreign minister and chief of the Terai party that rose to prominence in the last election with its pledge to fight for the rights of Madhesis, people of Indian origin living in the plains who have been ignored by a succession of governments.

“Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal and (his main coalition partner) the Nepali Congress have been involved in a conspiracy against Madhes (the autonomous state demanded by Madhesis) and to divide our party. We are withdrawing our support and will sit in opposition.”

The splintered MJF has called a shutdown in over two dozen districts in the Terai plains in southern Nepal Sunday to strike yet another blow against the Nepal government. Yadav said it will start a protest movement on the streets as well as parliament.

The MJF, the fourth largest party in the house with 53 lawmakers, played a decisive role in Nepal becoming elected as prime minister after the fall of the Maoist government last month. Yadav claimed that most of the MPs were with him.

Till today, 28 of them have signed a petition against Gachhedar, asking for his recall.

The two factions have been locked in a fierce rivalry for power which caused the expansion of the cabinet to be delayed by more than a week.

Violence simmered in the party office Friday with the Yadav faction padlocking the door to prevent a triumphant Gachhedar from entering.

The feud erupted last month after the fall of the Maoist government with the Yadav faction desiring to stay with the former guerrilla party but the Gachhedar faction insisted on joining forces with the new communist government.

Besides the Terai party, there is also sharp divide in the other key ally of the government, the Nepali Congress of former prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala, after the octogenarian leader, who was given a free hand by his party to choose the new ministers, picked his daughter Sujata Koirala to lead his party in the government.

Sujata Koirala was sworn in Thursday as foreign minister while the five other NC members inducted with her are yet to be allocated portfolios.

Nepal’s own party, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist, also failed to send additional members after disputes persisted over the new nominations.

Besides the infighting, the new prime minister has to also deal with continuous street protests by the Maoists, who are demanding a debate in parliament on the role of President Ram Baran Yadav.

The Maoist government fell after the president reinstated the chief of the army, Gen Rookmangud Katawal, whom it had sacked.

On Friday, scores of Maoists, including their former finance minister Baburam Bhattarai and ex-information and communications minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara defied police to stage a sit-in before the Prime Minister’s Office, condemning the presidential move.

It led to a clash, with Bhattarai sustaining minor injuries.

The new turbulence is especially alarming for India with the former guerrillas now having added an anti-India agenda to the protests. They are accusing India of encroaching on Nepal’s territory and the Indian border security forces, the Seema Suraksha Bal, of assaulting and raping villagers.

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