Koirala quits as Nepal PM (Lead, with Maoist reaction)June 26th, 2008 - 7:17 pm ICT by IANS
By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, June 26 (IANS) After a protracted and bitter dispute over power-sharing and mounting pressure by the Maoists to quit, Nepal’s Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala tendered his resignation before the newly elected constituent assembly Thursday, paving the way for a new government to be led by the former guerrillas. However, the resignation will not take effect immediately. The 83-year-old would continue in the hot seat till Nepal elects its first president who as head of state would accept the resignation.
The Maoists, whose dream of capturing power is on the threshold of coming true, said that if things went smoothly, their chief Prachanda would be sworn in as prime minister within a week, followed by the formation of a coalition government.
Koirala made a rare appearance in the assembly after zero hour, announcing his resignation in a short speech that, however, was heavy with emotion.
“When you take a decision, you are relieved of tension and feel light,” the octogenarian leader told the house. “I have appeared before you feeling lighter.”
Referring to Nepal’s long struggle for a republic and the thousands of lives lost in the process, Koirala said he was laying down his “sorrow and burden” before the assembly as it was the authority that could soothe the nation’s pains and show the way forward.
The prime minister, who forged a pact with the Maoists two years ago, won kudos for ending the decade-old Maoist uprising and then lost his halo in the ensuing bitter feud for power, said with regret that the parties had deviated from the way that had taken them to the historic election in April and forced King Gyanendra to exit from the palace for good.
“Long live consensus, cooperation and unity,” he said. “They are the way that will take Nepal to its destination. If you proceed minus Girija Prasad Koirala, I have no objection. But don’t deviate from the path.”
Koirala renewed his invitation to the Maoists, who emerged as the largest party after the April election, to form a new government in accordance with the constitution.
Maoist lawmaker and deputy commander of their People’s Liberation Army Prabhakar told IANS: “The new Maoist-led government could be announced within a week if there are no further deadlocks.”
The next step would be effecting yet another amendment in the interim constitution so that a president - who replaces the deposed king as head of state - can be elected by simple majority in the assembly if the 25 parties in it fail to reach a consensus.
The proposal for amending the statute was to have been tabled after Koirala’s resignation.
However, the assembly session had to be adjourned for nearly an hour after the Madhesi lawmakers from the Terai plains created pandemonium, opposing a recent amendment to the constitution bulldozed through the assembly by the bigger parties.
“If the protests subside, the amendment for electing the president and the actual election can be concluded in 72 hours,” Prabhakar said. “If they don’t, the deadlock will continue.”
Prachanda will become the new prime minister of Nepal after the election of the first president of republic Nepal.
Prabhakar said the Maoist chief would lead a consensus government that is likely to include the third largest party in the assembly, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML), the minor Left parties and the Madhes parties, which have emerged as regional kingmakers after the election.
While the Maoists said they would like Koirala’s Nepali Congress (NC) to take part in the coalition government, the former ruling party may choose to sit in opposition, especially after its bid to secure presidency for Koirala failed.
Once his resignation comes into effect, it would be the end of Koirala’s political career.
Handicapped by age and failing health, his plan to groom members of his family fared disastrously with none of the 11 winning the election, including his daughter Sujata, currently minister without portfolio in the prime minister’s office.
The Maoists, on their part, would have a tough job ahead once they take up reins of the new government.
Nepal faces an acute fuel crisis, rising inflation and food scarcity. The minor parties and student unions are opposing the Koirala government’s decision to hike fuel prices.
Even on Thursday, Kathmandu valley was paralysed by a closure call given by four fringe parties over the fuel price hike.
The former rebels would also have to oversee the integration of their guerrilla army with the state army in six months and de-militarise their militant youth wing, the Young Communist League (YCL).
Also on Thursday, a weeping lawmaker told the assembly that her husband had been abducted by the YCL, an allegation that was rebutted by the youth wing.
Last but not the least, the Maoists would also have to allay fears among the international community that they are not committed to peace and competitive politics but are likely to resume arms at the show of opposition by rival parties.
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