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Nepal PM faces tough fight for survival

world Updated: Nov 19, 2007 15:28 IST
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The battle in Nepal's parliament that started over King Gyanendra's fate is now threatening to unseat Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala and topple the interim government as the winter session starts on Monday.

The supremacy of both Koirala and his Nepali Congress party, which is the largest party in the interim parliament, faces a severe challenge from the new alliance of Maoists and communists.

The Maoist demand for the immediate abolition of Nepal's 238-year-old monarchy and a new election system received a boost in the recent special session of parliament when the rebels won over the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML), the second largest party in Koirala's ruling coalition.

Now, as the third session of the house starts, the Maoists and UML are clamouring for the two demands to be implemented, saying it is obligatory for the government since the special session passed them with a simple majority.

On Sunday, in a bid to mount further pressure on Koirala, who is resisting both demands, the Maoists held mass meetings in Kathmandu valley as well as other districts, warning that they would look for a new leadership if the prime minister ignored the demands.

"If the Nepali Congress is loath to abolish monarchy and adopt a fully proportional representation system for the election (despite being directed by parliament), the prime minister must step down," senior Maoist leader Baburam Bhattarai said at a rally held by his party in the capital.

Bhattarai also warned that if Koirala failed to implement the two demands in the winter session, his party would start a new protest movement.

Challenging Koirala's assertion that if the Maoists chose to stay away, he would hold the twice-postponed constituent assembly election without them, Bhattarai dared the government to go ahead and do it.

Since 1990, Nepal has been unable to hold any election due to the Maoists' opposition.

Though King Gyanendra conducted a municipal election last year during his army-backed regime, over 90 per cent of the parties boycotted it and it was declared null and void by the new government that came to power after his fall.

Despite the threats, Koirala and his party have said they would not agree to abolish the crown through parliament but leave the decision to the election.

The embattled premier faces a thorny situation with his MPs saying that even if they were asked to vote for the Maoist proposals, they would defy the party whip.

The crisis arises because according to Nepal's new constitution, the king can be sacked only if two-thirds of the legislators vote for the demands.

Though the Maoists and communists have a simple majority, they still need support from Koirala's party to increase their tally.

While the Maoists say it is morally binding for Koirala to heed parliament's majority decision, the PM says there are technical difficulties.

If the winter session can't resolve the deadlock, the fragile peace process will take another blow.

A fresh election date would become impossible and with the festivities over, the Terai plains in the south would become restive once again.

One of the strongest parties from the plains, the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum, has threatened to start protests from this week if the government failed to implement the commitments it had made almost two months ago.

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