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PM’s dilemma

Sunday, July 31st, 2011

The UCPN (Maoist) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal handed over resignation letter of the Maoist ministers to the Prime Minister Jhalanath Khanal in Baluwatar on Saturday, which has left Khanal with two options: induct the new Maoist ministers in his cabinet or resign.The Maoists had submitted a list of new Maoist ministers to the PM six days ago to replace the old ones. The Maoists have warned of pulling out of the coalition if their ministers are not inducted by Sunday.

A new batch of ministers was proposed as an attempt to appease party’s dissenters who had pressurised the Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal to take decision on this regard. The Maoist internal conflict has stalled the peace process, which is supposed to be completed by the end of August according to the five-point agreement. Dahal had already annoyed the hardliners by dropping party’s official line of “People’s revolution” in favor of peace and constitution writing. But the crisis within the party peaked after two dissenting deputies Baidya and Bhattarai protested against Chairman’s highhandedness and absolute control over the party, demanding a clear division of power and responsibility in the party. Dahal mollified his disgruntled comrades by dividing party responsibility but his decision to send a new team has put the coalition in trouble.

The main opposition NC objected to reshuffling of the cabinet and has been demanding Khanal’s resignation as agreed in the five-point agreement to pave way for consensus government, to which Khanal said he would resign as soon as there is a consensus candidate for the post. His own party leaders have cautioned him not to induct the new ministers. “The party would take serious action against Khanal if he inducts the proposed Maoist ministers in the cabinet,” said Bhim Rawal, central committee member and erstwhile Home Minister.

Khanal has asked the Maoists to review its decision. But the Maoists have made it clear that bring down the government if the decision is not implemented.

When Khanal had assumed office five months ago, he had stated his single goal: conclude the peace process. He had also promised that he would make efforts to form a consensus government to promulgate the new constitution on time. None happened over the period.However, Khanal does not want to leave the post just yet.

Although NC president Sushil Koirala says in public that Maoists should lead national unity government, his party leaders are strongly against the idea. “We can never accept the Maoist leadership as long as they have their own army and party line of revolt,” says NC leader Arjun Narshing KC.

The Maoist central committee has recommended Baburam Bhattarai as the party’s candidate for the post of prime minister and as a consensus candidate. However, the main opposition NC has said Dahal should lead the next government. “NC thinks Dahal is easy to deal with than Bhattarai but the party has already decided on this regard,” says a Maoist leader.

Even if Jhalanath Khanal steps down, the squabble over power sharing will continue as the parties have yet to find a basis on which a consensus could be formed. Until that happens, there is nothing to look forward to but yet another extension in August.

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