Nepal President Sets Deadline For New Government
Tuesday, 05 May 2009

Nepal's president has given political parties until Saturday to form a government after Maoist Prime Minister Prachanda resigned in a crisis that has threatened the Himalayan nation's fragile new democracy.

The president's deadline came as the main parties met on Tuesday to try to form a coalition government after former guerrilla leader Prachanda quit because his decision to sack Nepal's army chief was blocked by President Ram Baran Yadav.

Efforts to forge a new government will require bringing together about two dozen parliamentary groups, highlighting the difficulties of alliance-building in one of the world's poorest nations which is also emerging from a decade-long civil war.

Prachanda had fired General Rookmangud Katawal, saying he had undermined the authority of the civilian government, but the decision was opposed by some government allies and the president.

The Maoists, the biggest group in parliament with 40 percent of seats, have vowed to take to the streets and disrupt parliament to protest against what they say is their ousting by the opposition. They did not attend Tuesday's meeting.

More than 2,000 Maoist activists marched on the streets of the capital Kathmandu calling for the removal of the army chief.

If the parties do not meet the president's deadline, the interim constitution requires that parliament elect a prime minister. The constitution is unclear on what would happen if no leader was elected and there is fear of a political deadlock.

Jhal Nath Khanal, leader of the moderate Communist (UML) party which is likely to lead a new coalition, said efforts were being made to include the Maoists, their former allies.

"If there is no consensus then we will try for a government by simple majority," Khanal said.

The Maoists have said they could consider backing a new government if army chief Katawal is removed.

The Maoists suspect that Katawal was loyal to the monarchy that was abolished last year, and that he was backed by neighboring India, the main regional power which critics say tries to meddle in Nepal's affairs.


The political uncertainty may delay the drafting of a new constitution, a key part of a 2006 peace deal that led to the Maoists ending the war before they won a 2008 election.

While the Maoists have warned of protests, analysts said Prachanda's standing within his party had gone up since his resignation.

"They won't go back to the jungle but they're more than ready to take to the streets and paralyze any new administration," Rhoderick Chalmers, Nepal head of the Brussels-based think-tank International Crisis Group, wrote in India's Mail Today.

"They clearly command significant public support ... Prachanda's strongly worded but dignified resignation address was a claim to the moral high ground ... that may resonate with ordinary citizens," he said.

The crisis has also become a regional concern. India, already worried by troubles in neighboring Pakistan and Sri Lanka and in the middle of its own general election, fears more political instability in another nearby state like Nepal.

India is Nepal's biggest trade partner and has great influence in the country, but it has also been accused of backing the army general against Prachanda. Some analysts say India was fearful that Prachanda was diplomatically edging toward China.

Nepalis are struggling with daily power outages, high prices, massive fuel shortages and worsening public security and there are signs of disillusionment in the new democracy.

"The Maoists haven't delivered and they (the voters) see them as just like any other party," said Kunda Dixit, editor of the weekly Nepali Times. "But the people will not take it kindly if the Maoists are seen as obstructing."


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