Prachanda to miss Saarc summit?

July 3rd, 2008 - 1:10 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, July 3 (IANS) The Saarc Summit in Sri Lanka next month, a golden opportunity for Nepal’s Maoists to present their new image as a mainstream party committed to multiparty democracy, could elude the former guerrillas with the protracted political deadlock gripping the Himalayan nation showing no signs of a resolution. Sri Lanka’s Foreign Affairs Minister Rohitha Bogollagama Wednesday handed over the invitation from the island nation’s President Mahindra Rajapaksa to attend the 15th Saarc Summit in Colombo to Nepal’s prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala though the latter had tendered his resignation last month.

Almost three months after the election, that saw the Maoists emerge as the largest party, the former rebels have not yet been able to stake claim to the new government.

Maoist supremo Prachanda’s intention to step into Koirala’s shoes have been blocked due to the current uproar in the caretaker parliament, paralysed since last week.

The Maoists need to push through a constitutional amendment so they can form the new government through simple majority. The current constitutional provision requires a party to show two-third majority, a feat that is beyond any of the 25 parties in the present hung parliament.

The amendment was to have been tabled last week. However, since June 26, the newly elected constituent assembly, that also serves as Nepal’s caretaker parliament, has been unable to convene due to violent protests by three regional parties from the Terai plains.

The three ethnic parties are demanding that the government first implement the pact it made with them before the April election. According to the agreement, the Terai plains would get an autonomous state whose citizens would be included in the army and other government organs, from which they were excluded in the past.

However, the top three parties, including the Maoists, are opposing the demand for an autonomous Madhes state in the Terai, which they fear, would cause the disintegration of the country.

The army is also opposed to en masse inductions, saying recruitment should be made only on the basis of international norms of physical and mental fitness.

In addition, three more ethnic groups from the plains are opposing the Madhes state demand, saying such a state would cater only to people of Indian origin and marginalise them further.

One of the three, the Tharus, who contributed to the Maoist victory, have announced a protest movement from Friday to block the creation of a Madhes state.

The Terai parties, on the other hand, have warned they too would start a new movement in the plains if their pact is not implemented.

The stalemate has also prevented the election of Nepal’s first president, who would replace deposed king Gyanendra as head of state, and the nomination of 26 more lawmakers to the assembly to give it full shape.

The latest casualty of the wrangling has been the budget, which was to have been tabled on July 9.

But with Prachanda desiring to place a Maoist-guided budget with new priorities, it would have to wait till the former insurgents can form the new government.

The 15th Saarc Summit in Colombo, scheduled for Aug 2-3, is now less than a month away.

If the disputes are not resolved before that, Nepal would not have a foreign minister to participate in it since the post is vacant with the communist incumbent having resigned after her party’s debacle at the polls.

It would also mean Koirala would represent Nepal at the summit instead of Prachanda as the caretaker premier, a scenario that is certain to cause heartburns among the Maoists.

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