Nepal PM gives in to Maoists to survive ouster bid

August 1st, 2011 - 8:26 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, Aug 1 (IANS) Facing an ultimatum from the Maoists, his own allies, to reshuffle the cabinet or face the withdrawal of their support, Nepal’s embattled Prime Minister Jhala Nath Khanal Monday chose to appease the former rebels and ensure the survival of his five-month-old government.

Ignoring objections by both his own party and the opposition, Khanal reshuffled his 35-member cabinet Monday, inducting 10 more ministers.

Nine of them are from the Maoist party while the 10th is from another fractured ally, ethnic party Madhesi Janadhikar Forum.

The induction of nine more Maoists into the cabinet, coming 30 days ahead of a critical constitutional date, was vehemently opposed by leaders of the prime minister’s own Communist Party of Nepal-United Marxist Leninist as well as the main opposition Nepali Congress.

The Nepali Congress warned it was a violation of an agreement between all the major parties that helped Khanal survive another ouster bid in May.

Khanal dismissed the objections, saying it was the prerogative of the prime minister to reshuffle his cabinet.

This is the fifth cabinet expansion in five months.

Ironically, in March, Khanal came under fire from human rights organisations for giving the key home ministry portfolio to Maoist lawmaker Krishna Bahadur Mahara, who was involved in a vote-buying scandal, and the information and communications ministry to Agni Prasad Sapkota, who faces criminal investigation for the murder of a village school teacher during the Maoists’ “People’s War”.

After Monday’s reshuffle, Mahara was replaced by Maoist deputy chief Narayan Kaji Shrestha and Sapkota by Post Bahadur Bogati.

Maoist supremo Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda last week sought to stave off a challenge to his leadership within his party by asking the prime minister to induct 24 Maoist ministers after his three deputies alleged he had ignored them while choosing the old ministers.

Khanal initially rejected the demand when the Nepali Congress warned it would be considered a blow to the peace process.

While Monday’s cabinet reshuffle brings Khanal a temporary reprieve, he has not been able to put the fire out completely.

The Nepali Congress began a blockade of parliament this month and has warned it will keep up the protest till Khanal resigns.

Khanal’s party also remains critical of the reshuffle, with influential party leaders advising him to quit.

The prime minister faces another crisis on Aug 31 when he has to unveil a new constitution or risk the dissolution of his government once more.

Since 2008, Nepal has seen four governments in three years with none able to take the peace process to conclusion.

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

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