Maoist government sworn in amid hiccups (Lead)

August 22nd, 2008 - 8:16 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, Aug 22 (IANS) Nepal’s first government headed by the former Maoist guerrillas was sworn in Friday evening, more than four months after the elections. But there were danger signals, with a key ally boycotting the ceremony and threatening to leave the fledgling government if it did not get its dues.As a sombre Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ administered the oath of office and secrecy in the people’s name to his eight-member cabinet, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML), which had helped the Maoists to take power, did not send its ministers to the ceremony and warned it might not join the new government.

The oath-taking was delayed by over two hours as the UML, who have been blowing hot and cold towards the Maoists, demanded the key peace and reconstruction ministry, regarded as being the highest in seniority after the prime minister’s post.

Though the six nominated UML ministers had come to a last-ditch meeting with the Maoists in their national dress, ready to attend the oath-taking, the Maoist refusal made them march off from the presidential palace to their parliamentary office.

An emergency meeting of the disgruntled party announced that if they did not get the ministry they want, they would not join the government.

The UML nominees are headed by former home minister Bam Dev Gautam, who has been allocated the same ministry and is also the deputy prime minister.

The other nominated UML ministers are Ram Chandra Jha (local development), Bishnu Poudel (water resources), Kiran Gurung (forest and soil conservation), Ashta Laxmi Shakya (industries) and Gopal Shakya (youth and sports).

Even the Maoists, who have seen the emergence of two factions in the party, could nominate only four senior leaders for now though they have been allocated 10 ministries. The remaining would be named after Prime Minister Prachanda returns from China, where he is headed Saturday to attend the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games at the invitation of the Chinese government.

The four Maoist ministers sworn in Friday are Prachanda’s deputy Baburam Bhattarai, who gets the finance ministry, party spokesman Krishna Bahadur Mahara, who retains his information and communications ministry, Dev Gurung (law and legislature) and Ram Bahadur Thapa Magar “Badal”.

This is the first stint in power for Badal, the Maoists’ military strategist. Traditionally, the defence ministry had been held by the prime minister.

Terai party MJF leader Upendra Yadav will start his stint in power with the foreign ministry while former minister Bijay Gachhedar, who had earlier eyed the prime minister’s post, gets physical planning and works.

Former minister Jay Prakash Gupta, who had in the past faced corruption charges, has been given agriculture and cooperatives and Renu Yadav education.

All the three major parties have forsaken their election promise to give greater representation to women. There are only two women in the ministry.

The Maoists, who emerged as the largest party in the April election, shocking the world and the ruling Nepali Congress party of prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala, will also hold the contentious peace and reconstruction ministry as well as culture, tourism and civil aviation, land reforms, labour and transport management and housing and urban development ministries.

The UML boycott bodes ill for the fledgling Maoist government. In the past, Nepal’s governments have not been able to rule for full term due to wrangling between the major parties.

Also, the Nepali Congress decided not to join the government but sit in opposition. The Nepali Congress will also have to be watched closely.

On Friday, Koirala’s nephew and Nepali Congress leader Shekhar Koirala warned that his party could recall all its MPs from the interim parliament if the Maoists indicated signs of authoritarianism.

The Prachanda government, already facing a flood-induced disaster that left over 75,000 homeless in south Nepal, will also have to move fast to tackle the worsening law and order situation.

Last not the least, Prachanda, who will meet Chinese President Hu Jintao in Beijing, will also have to assuage his other powerful neighbour India’s concern that the new dispensation in Kathmandu is veering towards China to the detriment of New Delhi.

Prachanda’s new cabinet:

Maoists: 10 ministries,
Major ally UML 6
Terai party MJF 4
Fringe parties 4

Maoists:
Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda: PM
Deputy Dr Baburam Bhattarai: Finance
Spokesman Krishna Bahadur Mahara: Information and communications
Dev Gurung: Law and legislature
Ram Bahadur Thapa Magar: Defence

UML:
Bam Dev Gautam: Deputy PM, Home
Ram Chandra Jha: Local development
Bishnu Poudel: Water resources
Kiran Gurung: Forest and soil conservation
Ashta Laxmi Shakya: Industries
Gopal Shakya: Youth and sports

MJF:
Upendra Yadav: Foreign affairs
Bijay Gachhedar: Physical planning and works
Renu Yadav: Education
Jay Prakash Gupta: Agriculture and cooperatives

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