Fresh tug of war for power begins in Nepal

April 27th, 2008 - 2:07 pm ICT by admin  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, April 27 (IANS) Close on the heels of an election that saw the rout of Nepal’s two big ruling parties and a stunning victory for the Maoists, a new tug of war for power has begun between Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s Nepali Congress (NC) and the former guerrillas. With the Maoists winning 220 seats in the 601-member constituent assembly and the NC reduced to half of that, the former rebels have begun consultations with other parties for a coalition government to be led by their chairman Prachanda.

As the biggest party after the election, the Maoists say they have won the people’s mandate to lead the new government and guide the drafting of a new constitution for Nepal.

However, senior NC leaders have begun opposing the claim, saying Koirala should remain prime minister.

A piquant situation has arisen with two NC leaders, both of whom won in the April 10 constituent assembly election, rooting for the continuation of a government led by their party.

Former prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, who won a convincing victory from two constituencies at a time most NC giants bit the dust, and former physical planning and works minister Gopal Man Shrestha have begun advocating Koirala’s continuation as premier. They say that since the Maoists did not have a clear majority, they should not be allowed to nominate a prime minister.

Shrestha also says that Prachanda can’t become the new premier since he is also the “supreme commander” of the Maoist guerrilla army.

The NC demand for power will undoubtedly irk the Maoists, who have pledged not to surrender their arms or disband their People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

“As per the peace agreement, the PLA is not to be scrapped but to be integrated with the state army,” said Prabhakar, Maoist lawmaker and winner in the April election.

Despite struggling with failing health and the mortification of seeing most of his family members, including his daughter, vanquished in the election, Koirala has not yet relinquished his posts as head of government and his party.

Indicating a desire to keep his hat in the ring, Koirala, who earlier said he would retire from politics after the fateful election, has begun consultations with smaller parties in the hope of being able to cobble an alliance that will outnumber the Maoists.

Unlike the other big party chief, Madhav Kumar Nepal, who resigned as head of the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML) after losing from both his constituencies, Koirala has not shown any sign of yielding party leadership.

The Maoists might find it as tough to oust Koirala from the prime minister’s office as King Gyanendra from the Narayanhity royal palace.

Hailing from a family that gave three prime ministers to Nepal, Koirala came to power two years ago not through an election but a public uprising against the king’s absolute rule.

At that time, his premiership was backed by the international community, including India, the US and Britain.

However, now with India saying it would accept the public verdict given through the April election, it remains to be seen if Koirala would continue to get New Delhi’s support.

On Saturday, the newly appointed Indian Ambassador to Nepal Rakesh Sood met both Koirala and Deuba, within 48 hours of his arrival in Kathmandu.

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