Tuesday, February 8, 2011

New Nepal PM fails to name cabinet

New Nepal PM fails to name cabinet

KATHMANDU: Five days after deserting his old allies and forging a secret pact with the opposition Maoists to win the controversial prime ministerial election, Nepal's new premier Jhala Nath Khanalfailed to name his cabinet even on Tuesday, casting fresh doubts on his ability to conclude the peace process successfully within the remaining 110 days.

The 61-year-old communist leader, who abandoned his party's ally, the Nepali Congress, to become prime minister with the support of the Maoists, is now being asked to pay his pound of flesh by the former guerrillas, who are eying major ministries. The Maoists have staked claim to the foreign affairs, home and information and communications ministries and Khanal's party's refusal to concede all three has resulted in another deadlock.

The top leaders of the two parties resumed negotiations Tuesday to reach an understanding on power-sharing but, keeping true to Nepal's history of endless strife, the talks broke down without any agreement. Due to the PM's inability to name his cabinet, parliament has not been able to sit and even the Maoists' standing committee, which was to meet Tuesday to discuss how to metamorphose their guerrilla army into state security forces, had to be put off.

So far, Khanal's activities have been to take part in an elaborate Hindu worship ritual before shifting into Baluwatar, the official residence of the prime minister, to appease the gods. For more than a decade, no Nepal premier has been able to last full term, giving rise to doubts about the auspiciousness of the official residence. On Tuesday too, the cabinet-less PM frittered away more time attending a Hindu programme to officially welcome spring.

While the communist PM sends up prayers to the divine powers, his government is running out of time rapidly. Only 110 days remain for getting the new constitution ready and if the power tussle is not resolved soon, it will be certain that the Khanal government will not be able to deliver. There are already reports that the secret pact he signed with the Maoists will lead to his resigning before May 28, the constitutional deadline. His party will then support Maoist chief Prachanda to become the neext PM. The fact that both sides have admitted to the existence of a secret pact clearly indicates they both know, for all their posturing, that they will fail the nation yet again. The talks therefore are no longer about the constitution -- that was the mandate of the election -- but about seizing power and hanging on to it.


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