Nepal’s new PM sworn in amidst fresh discordBy Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS
Sunday, February 6, 2011
KATHMANDU - Though a seven-month-old political vacuum ended Sunday with Nepal’s new Prime Minister Jhala Nath Khanal taking oath of office and secrecy, the swearing-in was marred by disputes over power-sharing and anger by his own party men as well as former allies over a secret deal that became public.
Khanal, who broke away from his party’s ruling ally, the Nepali Congress, and struck a deal with the opposition Maoists to become the 34th prime minister of Nepal, now faces a tough time with his new allies.
This became evident when he had to take the oath of office, administered by President Ram Baran Yadav, alone after power-sharing talks with the Maoists broke down.
Though Khanal had said he would immediately start with a small cabinet comprising capable ministers who had not been defeated in the 2008 elections, the 61-year-old could not announce even a kitchen cabinet due to stiff opposition by the Maoists, who are seeking their pound of flesh for having ensured Khanal’s victory.
Khanal’s party’s proposal to keep the key ministries of home and finance was shot down by Maoist chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda, who had in a surprise move stepped down during Thursday’s election to ensure Khanal’s victory.
Being the largest party in parliament and far outnumbering Khanal’s 109 MPs with their 237 lawmakers, the Maoists are now demanding proportional representation in the cabinet, which would mean at least 40 percent ministries.
Besides the tough balancing act with the Maoists, who Sunday became the proxy rulers of Nepal two years after the fall of their government, Khanal has to also grapple with trouble in his own party and with the Nepali Congress.
On the eve of his oath-taking, it became public, in an embarrassing leak, that Khanal had signed a clandestine agreement with Prachanda to persuade the Maoists to back him.
In the secret pact, Khanal has agreed to form a new security force either comprising guerrilla fighters from the Maoists’ People’s Liberation Army (PLA) or an equal number of PLA combatants and state security forces.
He has also agreed to run the government on the basis of a rotational prime minister.
Both conditions have been fiercely opposed by the Nepali Congress as well as dissidents in his party who said the pact went against the peace accord of 2006 that ended a decade of Maoist insurgency.
The agreement is also certain to be opposed by the army, whose chief, Gen Chhatraman Singh Gurung, has said PLA guerrillas can be inducted in the army only individually if they meet the eligibility criteria but not en masse.
With the Nepali Congress deciding to sit in opposition, Khanal’s government would have a tough time resolving contentious issues in the new constitution.
Khanal has less than four months to promulgate a new constitution by May 28 and the failure to name a quick cabinet indicates further delay and dispute.
(Sudeshna Sarkar can be contacted at [email protected])