PM or president - who will represent Nepal in SAARC Summit?

July 30th, 2008 - 1:00 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, July 30 (IANS) Nepal’s caretaker Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s participation at the 15th SAARC Summit in Sri Lankan capital Colombo this Friday is in jeopardy with the Maoists fiercely opposing it and saying that the newly elected president should take his place. The decision by the outgoing cabinet Monday to send a jumbo 35-member delegation to the regional meet under the caretaker premier’s stewardship has triggered a raging row with the Maoists and their Communist allies warning they would start a fresh spate of protests nationwide if Koirala did not step aside.

“A caretaker prime minister has no right to attend the summit,” Maoist lawmaker Dinanath Sharma told IANS. “Neither have spouses and outgoing ministers who lost the election.”

The delegation includes Koirala’s daughter, minister without portfolio Sujata Koirala, who lost the April election, and Rosna Mahat, wife of Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat, who is also attending the meet of SAARC foreign ministers as Nepal currently does not have a foreign minister.

The cabinet has approved a budget of Nepali Rs.7.3 million for the jaunt at a time Nepal is reeling under an acute energy crisis for lack of funds to pay its fuel bills.

Maoist chief Prachanda, whose bid to step into Koirala’s shoes was foiled by his party’s defeat in the presidential election this month, is proposing that the newly elected ceremonial President Ram Baran Yadav take Koirala’s place at the SAARC Summit.

He had summoned the Sri Lankan ambassador to Nepal to convey his party’s objection to a caretaker prime minister attending the meet.

The call for stopping Koirala gathered momentum after the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML) Tuesday joined forces with the Maoists.

The UML, the third largest party in the National Assembly, has threatened it would move a proposal in the assembly Wednesday to stop Koirala.

The embattled prime minister is sure to lose the vote in the house if that happens since the Maoists and UML together have the simple majority required to push through their proposal.

In a bid to avert a showdown in the house, Koirala Wednesday called a meeting of the four largest parties to thrash out an agreement.

Besides his own Nepali Congress party, who are supporting his attendance at the SAARC Summit, the other three parties called to the meeting are the Maoists, the UML and the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (MJF).

Though the MJF proved to be a kingmaker in this month’s presidential election, its 52 lawmakers alone would not be able to give Koirala the simple majority required in the house.

The SAARC feud once again underlines the growing discord between Nepal’s ruling parties, who put behind their traditional rivalry two years ago to oppose King Gyanendra’s power grab.

However, with the king having been deposed, the parties have begun to turn their guns increasingly on one another in the race for power.

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