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Maoists finally capture power in Nepal

Eleven years after they had started a civil war, Nepal's Maoist guerrillas finally captured the power they had been seeking.

world Updated: Apr 01, 2007 09:05 IST
Sudeshna Sarkar
Sudeshna Sarkar

Eleven years after they had started a civil war, Nepal's Maoist guerrillas finally captured the power they had been seeking, reaching an understanding with the ruling coalition to join the government with five key ministries.

It was a heady moment for farmer's son Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who quit his job as a teacher in the 90s to lead the guerrilla movement and became transformed into Prachanda, a revolutionary who learnt how to use the gun and grenades. He lived underground for over a decade with an international alert for his capture.

After signing a peace pact with the seven-party government last year, Prachanda's band of guerrillas became recognised as a political party this year when it re-entered parliament after a decade with 83 MPs. It became the third largest party in the house.

Marking further progress, they are poised to enter the government Saturday formally after reaching an understanding on power-sharing followed by nearly three months of squabbling.

After several warnings that they would start another war and not join the government, the rebels finally opted to enter the cabinet Friday night with the allocation of five prime ministries.

After late-night parleys between the seven-party ruling alliance and the guerrillas, Jhalanath Khanal, leader of the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML), the second largest party in the government, told the media an agreement had been reached to form a 21-member ministry initially.

Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala will lead the new government of eight parties. It will be the octogenarian leader's fifth stint as the head of government.

While Maoist chief Prachanda will not join the ministry, his party, along with UML and Koirala's Nepali Congress, will have five ministries each.

The Nepali Congress, the biggest party in parliament with 85 MPs, will hold most of the key portfolios: defence, home, finance, science and technology and the newly created peace and rehabilitation ministry.

It had already been in possession of the first three and the delay in forming the new government was attributed to Koirala's refusal to yield them to the other allies.

The Maoists have bagged the plum ministry of information and communications, local development, physical planning and works, forest, and women, children and social welfare.

The UML retains foreign affairs and culture, general administration and tourism and civil aviation, besides also getting education and sports, and agriculture and cooperatives.

The Maoists' triumphant entry in the government means loss of stature for former prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, deposed by King Gyanendra in 2005.

From the third largest party in parliament and government, Deuba's Nepali Congress (Democratic) goes one step down in hierarchy and gets only three ministries in the new government: water resources, labour and transport and law, justice and parliamentary affairs.

Three of the minor partners in the government get one ministry each while the fourth, the leftist Nepal Workers and Peasants Party is to repeat its earlier stance and support the government from outside.

The United Left Front gets land reforms, Nepal Sadbhavana Party (Anandi) gets industry, commerce and supplies and People's Front health.

Despite earlier speculation that the new could have up to four deputy prime ministers, Khanal indicated there would be no deputy prime minister.

So far, only the Maoists, the most organised and disciplined among the eight parties, have made public the names of their new ministers.

Maoist spokesman and chief of the parliamentary party Krishna Bahadur Mahara has been earmarked for information and communications while Hisila Yami, wife of Prachanda's deputy Baburam Bhattarai, has been named for physical planning and infrastructure.

Marking a change from the earlier practice of allocating the soft women, children and social development ministry to a woman, the rebels have named Khadga Bahadur Bishwakorma, coming from an underprivileged community, for the portfolio.

Dev Gurung, a member of the Maoist peace talks team has been named for local development while Matrika Prasad Yadav, a leader from the Terai plains, has been nominated for forest.

Yadav was arrested by the Delhi Police during the insurgency and handed over to the Nepal government despite protests by rights groups who said his life would be in danger.

Saturday, though a holiday in Nepal, is expected to see frenzied activity with the seven ruling parties holding meetings in the morning to finalise their ministerial nominees.

During the day, Koirala is expected to resign and dissolve the government, to be followed by the swearing-in of the new government.

The new government will be only a temporary one, with a tenure of around three months. Its chief task will be to hold elections by June.

The new government is expected to be sworn in Saturday since Koirala leaves for New Delhi Sunday for the 14th SAARC Summit.

First Published: Mar 31, 2007 10:22 IST