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Nepal's post-Maoist government falters

world Updated: Jun 08, 2009 10:23 IST
AFP
Nepal

Two weeks after Nepal swore in a new prime minister following the fall of the Maoist government, analysts say the ruling coalition is looking decidedly shaky as it struggles to form a cabinet.

Maoist chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal -- known as Prachanda -- plunged the world's newest republic into chaos in May when he resigned as prime minister just eight months into the job following a failed bid to fire the head of the army.

A group of rival parties led by the centre-left UML -- the third-largest party in parliament -- agreed to form a new ruling coalition, but have failed to agree on cabinet positions amid fierce political infighting.

On Friday one of the coalition partners withdrew its support, further weakening the already fragile grouping.

"Even if they do manage to form a full government, it will be highly unstable," said Lok Raj Baral, political science professor at the Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu. "The culture of mistrust among parties is so high that the government could fall at any time. The wrangling for the ministerial berths in parties has made the country's political future uncertain," Baral said.

Prachanda and his fellow guerrillas fought against the army in a bloody civil war before emerging as the surprise winners of a 2007 general election with more than a third of the seats in parliament. However, he resigned as prime minister after Nepal's president blocked his government's efforts to sack the head of the army, General Rookmangud Katawal.

On Friday, Maoist lawmakers tussled with police as they protested outside the president's office, and they have vowed to disrupt parliament and hold street protests until Katawal is removed. "We want the president to apologise and correct his unconstitutional move," Maoist party spokesman Dinanath Sharma said.

"We will continue to protest from streets and in parliament unless our demands are met," he added.

The row between Prachanda's government and Katawal was centred on the fate of 19,000 former Maoist rebel fighters, who are currently confined to United Nations-supervised camps.

Prachanda demanded that they be integrated into the national army to cement the peace process but the army refused, saying the guerrillas could never become non-partisan soldiers. The current political uncertainty has cast a shadow over the fragile peace process launched when the 10-year civil war ended in 2006.

Rhoderick Chalmers, Nepal country director for the International Crisis Group (ICG), said the process was "close to collapse." "It is unfortunate to see political leaders fighting for petty gains and to fulfill personal ambitions," he said.

"Consensus was the key for all the parties, including the Maoists, to move forward. "In order to take the peace process forward, the first thing parties should do is to rebuild consensus."

A key task is the drafting of a new constitution after the 2008 abolition of the Himalayan nation's 239-year-old monarchy. But the process is already well behind schedule, and few now believe the government can meet its May 2010 deadline.

"The peace process will get delayed and at this point it doesn't seem likely that the government will meet the deadline of writing the constitution," said Tribhuvan University's Baral. Shankar Pokhrel, secretary of the UML party, told AFP discussions on ministerial portfolios were continuing, and expressed hope they would be completed within a few days.

"The biggest challenge is to bring all the leaders under one roof," he said. But Gunaraj Luitel, political columnist with the Nepali language daily Nagarik, said the latest crisis had exposed a "deep crisis of confidence" among the party leaders.

"The road to peace and stability looks rocky. Without a politics of consensus, Nepal will remain stuck," he said.