Crisis in Nepal as PM quits (Lead)

August 14th, 2011 - 11:11 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, Aug 14 (IANS) Nepal was plunged into a crisis Sunday with embattled Prime Minister Jhala Nath Khanal tendering his resignation late night after days of vacillating.

The communist leader, who had pledged in parliament that he would quit Saturday if he failed to take the stalled peace process forward, but then tried to stay on in power saying his exit would lead to a dire constitutional void, submitted his resignation to President Ram Baran Yadav in a surprise move late Sunday evening.

The gesture came after his own party advised him to quit during the day and a bloc of ethnic parties, the fourth largest group in parliament, accused him of trying to hang on in power.

This is the fall of the fourth government in Nepal in as many years.

Khanal was elected in February after he abandoned his own allies following 16 rounds of failed elections and signed a secret deal with the Maoists to capture power.

However, the move recoiled on him, with the Maoists, who had arm-twisted him into running the government according to their diktat, finally refusing to bail him out by agreeing to his plan to demobilise their guerrilla army with its nearly 20,000 combatants.

The resignation came as parliament was certain to be in an uproar Monday when it convened with the opposition demanding his resignation.

It was also a final act of defiance against the Maoists and his other coalition partners who had advised Khanal not to resign on the grounds that the interim constitution’s life would be ending Aug 31 and the new statute that would replace it was not ready yet.

Unless the deadline was extended, it would lead to the dissolution of the government and parliament. But a caretaker government would not have the authority to extend the deadline, which would create a constitutional crisis.

Khanal, whose six-month-old government failed to give impetus to the flagging peace process and the drafting of a new constitution, had publicly announced he would step down in the hope it would pressure the Maoists into making concessions.

Five years after the Maoists signed a peace accord to end their decade-old armed insurrection, their guerrilla army still remains intact. Nepal’s main political parties as well as the international community have been demanding that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) be demobilised before the promulgation of the new constitution.

The prime minister had proposed to the Maoist leadership that of the nearly 20,000 PLA combatants, about 7,000 be inducted into the Nepal Army, enjoying no higher rank than colonel.

He has also proposed that the remaining combatants be paid a compensation of NRS 700,000 each and be discharged.

Khanal was hoping Maoist chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda would agree to his proposal since his government has made major concessions to the former guerrillas about cabinet appointments.

However, his hope received a blow when the Maoist leadership met to discuss his proposal on the PLA and rejected it outright.

Nepal seems poised for further turbulence with no clear leadership emerging to head the next government and both the Maoists and Nepali Congress staking claim.

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

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