Nepal’s ruling parties flouting poll mandate: lawmakers

June 18th, 2008 - 5:52 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, June 18 (IANS) Nepal’s ruling parties came under fire in the newly-elected constituent assembly Wednesday with lawmakers accusing them of remaining absorbed in power-jockeying and ignoring the mandate of the April polls while the Maoist threat to quit the government loomed large. The constituent assembly meeting lacked lustre with ministers and top leaders of the three largest parties - Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s Nepali Congress (NC), the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML) and the Maoists - staying away.

The constituent assembly election two months ago was regarded as a major step to restoring peace and stability in a country wracked by decade-long Maoist insurgency.

The first national election after nine years, its purpose was to elect a body that would write a new, pro-people constitution within two years.

“However, 21 days after the first meeting of the assembly, the government has failed to choose a new head of state,” said Narhari Acharya, who won the election from Kathmandu despite being a strong critic of Koirala.

On May 28, the constituent assembly held a historic meeting in which it decided to abolish Nepal’s 239-year-old monarchy, proclaimed the Hindu kingdom a secular, federal republic and ordered deposed king Gyanendra to vacate the Narayanhity Palace here in 15 days.

Though the king, who was the constitutional head of state, bowed to the public verdict and exited from his ancestral residence before the stipulated deadline, the three major parties, locked in a fierce dispute for power, have failed to choose a new head of state.

Though they agreed that Nepal would change its constitution to have a ceremonial president in the king’s place, the parties remain at loggerhead over who would be the first president of Nepal.

While Koirala’s henchmen are lobbying to get the post for him, the Maoists have ruled him out, ostensibly due to his advanced age and failing health, but actually because they do not want the figurehead president to become a parallel power in the government.

In retaliation, Koirala is refusing to quit as head of government even though his party fared dismally in the election, which also saw the Maoists emerging as the largest party.

This month, the seven Maoist ministers in the cabinet submitted their resignation to their party chief Prachanda, in a bid to pressure Koirala into quitting.

On Wednesday, the three parties began holding yet another round of negotiations. The Maoists have threatened that if the talks fail, their ministers’ resignations would be forwarded to Koirala by the end of the day.

Absorbed in the power play, the ruling parties have failed to nominate the 26 members needed to make the constituent assembly complete, address the deepening fuel crisis and the unrest due to a recent hike in public transport.

Though the government hiked fuel prices this month to keep parity with global market prices, it has failed to ensure an adequate supply of petro-products from India, its lone fuel exporter. It has also failed to put in place a revised transport fare, resulting in chaos.

On Wednesday, students belonging to the UML, went on rampage, halting traffic near all college campuses to press their demand for a rollback in fares. They have decided to stage protests daily till their demand is met.

The UML students have a free hand now to take part in anti-government protests since their ministers quit the cabinet soon after the election results, saying it was inappropriate for them to sit in government since the people’s mandate was against them.

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