Will Nepal’s new president woo the Maoists back?

July 24th, 2008 - 1:48 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, July 24 (IANS) Nepal’s first president Ram Baran Yadav now faces the tough task of deciding whether to woo back the disgruntled Maoists, who say they won’t be part of the government, or invite the anti-Maoist coalition to take up the reins of power. The 61-year-old former physician, who was administered oath of office Wednesday, was subsequently met by Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, who formally tendered his resignation to the new head of state and paved the way for a new government.

Till the cut-throat presidential election, the Maoists, who had emerged as the largest party after the April constituent assembly polls winning 226 out of 601 seats, had been staking their claim to power with their chairman Prachanda poised to be the new prime minister of Nepal.

However, after the presidential poll debacle that saw the Maoist nominee defeated twice by a new alliance of Koirala’s Nepali Congress (NC), the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML) and the powerful ethnic party from the Terai plains - the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (MJF), Prachanda said his party would sit in the opposition.

Despite the announcement, a section of the Maoist leaders still favour having a go at the government provided the anti-Maoist alliance breaks up.

Prachanda’s deputy, Baburam Bhattarai, told the state-run Radio Nepal his party would reconsider the decision if the alliance - that the former guerrillas have condemned as unholy, opportunistic and volatile - is disbanded.

Political analysts feel that if the Maoists are not wooed back, it would create greater instability, widen the growing rift between the major parties and hamper the drafting of a new constitution.

“The Maoists should not remain unyielding in their decision to shun the government,” said Krishna Pokhrel, a political commentator. “They should realise that it’s far more important to take the peace process to its conclusion and write a pro-people’s constitution. To ensure that, they should create an atmosphere of cooperation with both the NC and UML.”

The onus is also on Koirala, who has been asked to continue as caretaker prime minister till a new government is formed.

If he is willing to forgive the Maoists their fierce opposition to his effort to assume Nepal’s first presidency and is not keen to become prime minister again, as some reports suggest, a national consensus can be salvaged.

The UML, the third largest party and a former ally of the Maoists, still has a soft spot for the guerrillas despite their parting over the presidential election.

UML chief Jhalanath Khanal says the Maoists should form the government since they have the people’s mandate. He has also said the alliance that ruffled the Maoists was intended only for the presidential election.

The reaction of MJF, which emerged as a kingmaker after the election with a decisive 52 seats in the assembly, is of crucial importance. As soon as the Maoists relinquished their claim to power, the MJF said it was ready to lead the government and claimed it had the support of both Koirala and the UML.

It remains to be seen if the Terai party will be ready to forego its claim if the Maoists change their mind. If the MJF does not give in voluntarily, it can trigger fresh unrest in the volatile plains, as it had in the past to press the demand for an autonomous state.

Yadav will need to play the peace maker. He will also have to avoid being seen as partisan to his former party - the NC or the Terai parties as he himself is from the same region.

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