Sunday, February 6, 2011

Nepal Maoists return to power by proxy

Nepal Maoists return to power by proxy

KATHMANDU: Two years after Nepal's first Maoist government fell as a result of being deserted by its ruling ally, the communists, the former guerrillas returned to power on Sunday riding piggyback on the deserters. As communist chairman Jhala Nath Khanal was sworn in as the new prime minister by President Ram Baran Yadav, it was virtually a proxy government for the Maoists with the weak premier unable to put together even a small cabinet.

Power-sharing talks between the communists and the Maoists failed, continuing Nepal's long tradition of infighting, and Maoist chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda, who had last week said he was sacrificing his own candidacy to help Khanal win stopped at further sacrifices. So the three communist leaders chosen by Khanal to be his ministers turned up at the presidential palace Shital Niwas in formal attire to be sworn in only to find that the induction of the cabinet had been put off due to disagreements.

The scenario was even worse than the previous ceremony in 2009 when Khanal's predecessor, Madhav Kumar Nepal, had to be sworn in only with two ministers from his own party without the allocation of portfolios. As the price for ensuring Khanal's victory after seven months and 16 rounds of failed polls, the Maoists are demanding major ministries and the new PM has few options but to concede.

The 61-year-old former information and communications minister starts his tenure with a rattling skeleton fresh in the cupboard. Disgruntled factions in his party as well as among the Maoists have begun circulating a secret agreement that Khanal is believed to have signed with Prachanda on the eve of last week's prime ministerial election to win the latter's support. The seven-point agreement says the Maoists' People's Liberation Army (PLA) – which remains the major stumbling block ino the peace process – will be either repackaged as a new security force on its own or form a new unit along with the same number of state security force personnel. The accord also says the government will be led on a rotational basis.

Khanal's former ally, the Nepali Congress, has already begun objecting to the pact, saying it violates the peace accord of 2006 that ended a decade of Maoist rebellion. The accord says PLA fighters will be inducted into the state security forces individually and not in a group if they meet the physical and, mental requirements. Khanal and Prachanda's agreement will also antagonise the army, which has ruled out accepting PLA fighters en masse.

Besides the political outcry, Khanal starts his tenure on another note of discord with Nepal's power authorities announcing a 14-hour power outage daily from Monday. He will also have to bring under control mounting corruption and deterioration in law and order, an impossible task given the minority status of his party in parliament. The toughest task however will be getting a new constitution ready within the remaining 110 days. With his former ally, the Nepali Congress, now turned against him due to his "double-cross" during last week's election, resolving the disputes in the constitution will now become tough, if not downright impossible.


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