Nepal braces for prime ministerial duel

August 13th, 2008 - 5:47 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, Aug 13 (IANS) After a 10-year epic battle with the security forces to topple Nepal’s monarchy, the former Maoist guerrillas will now duel with Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala Friday for the republic’s first prime ministership. The Maoists’ alliance with the caretaker prime minister and his Nepali Congress (NC) party, which has been in tatters since the April election, will be cleft as Nepal’s constituent assembly holds its first election to choose a new prime minister.

While Maoist supemo Prachanda, who led the party’s guerrilla army to war against the state in 1996, will stake his claim to the top post, the NC will be his arch rival.

Though the NC is yet to name its candidate, its top leaders Wednesday held a meeting to decide that it will fight the election so as to not give the Maoists a walkover.

NC leaders say if they lose the election, they will not join a Maoist-led government but sit in opposition.

The poll resembles a replay of the presidential election in July, which became a duel between the Maoists and Koirala.

The 83-year-old had set his sights on the post of the nation’s first president but after being rejected by the Maoists, fielded a surprise candidate from his party at the last moment who won the race.

This time too, there were indications that Koirala, despite his party’s humiliating defeat to the Maoists in the April election, was angling for a fresh innings as prime minister.

However, unable to get the support of the other major parties, it is now likely that on Thursday, the day for filing nominations, the NC will spring another dark horse.

Peace and Reconstruction Minister Ram Chandra Poudel, a former deputy prime minister and among the few NC leaders who won the April election, could be asked to put his hat in the poll ring.

The Maoists, who lost the presidential election, are trying their best to prevent another debacle.

Prachanda Wednesday met the third-largest party, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML), asking its chief Jhalanath Khanal to back them in Friday’s fight.

The UML, whose support could make or break the election, is still trying to play peacemaker, urging both the NC and Maoists to bury the hatchet.

The ostensible bone of contention in the poll is the defence ministry.

The Maoists want it on the ground that traditionally, it has been retained by Nepal’s prime ministers. The NC is also claiming the portfolio, saying that otherwise, the Maoists will become dictatorial and try to take over the army by inducting its guerrillas into it en masse.

The UML, which is yet to nail its colours to its mast, is warning both sides that a government minus the Maoists or the NC is bound to trigger new complications and affect the peace process.

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