Battle hots up for Nepal PM’s post

August 16th, 2011 - 2:44 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, Aug 16 (IANS) The battle for Nepal’s new prime minister hotted up Tuesday with the major parties stepping up negotiations after President Ram Baran Yadav gave them till Sunday to form a national government.

True to Nepal’s turbulent political legacy, the race is marked by infighting among the parties with a former prime minister seeking the ouster of his rival from his own party.

Sher Bahadur Deuba, veteran leader of the Nepali Congress party and the man with the dubious distinction of being sacked twice by deposed king Gyanendra, is campaigning to remove his rival former deputy PM Ram Chandra Poudel as the chief of the party in parliament.

Poudel was the Nepali Congress’ candidate for the prime minister’s post and fought 17 rounds of election that ultimately saw wily communist leader Jhala Nath Khanal pip him with the support of the Maoists.

Now Deuba, who split his party vertically during a leadership tussle in the past, is seeking to be prime minister for the fourth time.

So far, Poudel has refused to relinquish his claim and the duel could lead to a rift in the second largest party in parliament.

Chastened by the fall of two of their prime ministers in quick succession, the communists Tuesday said they would not enter the fray this time.

But they would still try to keep a grip on the government in exchange for their support as none of the parties enjoys majority and therefore can’t form the new government without an alliance.

Besides the internal battle, the Nepali Congress would have to fight the Maoists, the largest party in parliament who led the first government in Nepal after the historic constituent assembly election in 2008 that saw Nepal become a republic.

While Maoist deputy chief Baburam Bhattarai says his candidature has been endorsed by party chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda, the former guerrillas face a tough time enlisting the support of the other parties.

The Nepali Congress says it will not accept a Maoist-led government till the former guerrillas disband their nearly 20,000-strong People’s Liberation Army and hand over the arms they continue to own even five years after signing a peace accord.

The fourth largest power in parliament, a bloc of ethnic parties from the Terai plains, will play a key role in the formation of the new government. While a faction is inclined towards the Maoists, the other is likely to support the Nepali Congress.

If an all-party government fails to materialise by Sunday, the president will have to ask the parties to form a majority government. Going by the fall of the two earlier majority governments, such a coalition is not likely to have staying power.

The protracted instability has halted the peace process that was to have ended Aug 31 with a people’s constitution.

On Aug 31, when the deadline for the new constitution ends, the parties are certain to fail to execute the task even after extending the deadline twice.

The Supreme Court has already warned the government that it can’t keep on prolonging the deadline endlessly.

(Sudeshna Sarkar can be contacted at sudeshna.s@ians.in)

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