Nepal Maoists moot presidential poll Wednesday

June 28th, 2008 - 3:27 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, June 28 (IANS) After the historic election in April that abolished monarchy and proclaimed Nepal a secular republic, the Maoists, who waged a successful war on former king Gyanendra, are now proposing another historic election Wednesday to choose a new head of state. Nepal would hold its first presidential election July 2 if the ongoing protests in the newly elected constituent assembly - that also doubles up as the caretaker parliament - are resolved through negotiations among the top parties.

Since May 28, when the assembly formally announced Nepal a republic and asked dethroned king Gyanendra to vacate the royal palace, the nation has been without a constitutional head of state.

As a result, though Girija Prasad Koirala, who had been heading the caretaker government since the fall of the king’s regime two years ago, resigned as prime minister Thursday to pave the way for a new Maoist-led government, the resignation is yet to come into effect due to technical difficulties.

Koirala can be relieved only after his resignation is accepted by the head of state, a post lying vacant since the abolition of monarchy last month.

The Maoists are proposing that the first presidential election be held Wednesday, followed by the prime ministerial election Thursday.

After months of wrangling over power sharing, the ruling parties finally agreed that the president and prime minister would be elected by the assembly through simple majority.

It is almost certain that Maoist supremo Prachanda would step into Koirala’s shoes as the next prime minister.

The Maoists hold 220 of the 575 current seats in the assembly and have garnered the support of the third largest party, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML) that has 103 seats.

The former rebels are also banking on the support of the Terai parties, which have nearly 80 seats, and the minor left parties.

While the new premiership is almost a certainty, the first president’s post still remains contentious.

Although Koirala’s Nepali Congress party wants the post for their octogenarian leader, the Maoists have refused it, ostensibly because of Koirala’s advanced age and failing health but actually, to avoid a parallel source of power.

The former guerrillas have a tacit agreement with the UML to concede the post to the latter in exchange for their support in forming the new government. But the UML candidate may trigger widespread public protests.

A senior UML leader, Bamdev Gautam, says his party will field its former chief Madhav Kumar Nepal for the presidency. Nepal suffered a humiliating defeat in the April election, losing from both the capital and the Terai constituency he contested from, an indication that he has lost the public mandate.

In the past, the Maoists had said that the presidential post should go to a non-political person who had played a decisive role in Nepal’s pro-democracy struggles.

They had advocated Ram Raja Prasad Singh, a former guerrilla leader who had taken part in an armed uprising against the absolute rule of deposed king Gyanendra’s father Mahendra.

But Singh’s nomination may be put on hold if the UML wants its pound of flesh.

Both the presidential and prime ministerial elections hinge on the Terai parties, who have halted the assembly’s proceedings since Thursday, demanding an autonomous Madhes state in the Terai.

While the Terai parties have threatened to continue their protests till their demand is met, the Maoists are opposed to it. The seven ruling parties are trying to come up with a solution Saturday before the assembly convenes.

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