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05 May 2009 00:00
Nepal’s political parties met on Tuesday in a bid to form a new coalition after Maoist Prime Minister Prachanda resigned and his party threatened street protests over a crisis sparked by the army chief’s sacking.
Any effort to forge a new government could require bringing together about two dozen parliamentary groups, highlighting the difficulties of alliance-building in a democracy slowly emerging from a decade-old civil war.
The Maoists, the biggest group in Parliament with 40% of seats, vowed to take to the streets and disrupt Parliament to protest against what they say is their ousting by the opposition. It was unclear if they would attend Tuesday’s meeting.
Police detained dozens of protesters who tried to march to the high-security presidential palace in the capital on Tuesday, demanding civilian supremacy over the army.
Former guerrilla leader Prachanda resigned after his decision to sack army chief Rookmangud Katawal was not backed by other government allies and the president, triggering a political deadlock.
“We will not let normal proceedings of parliament go ahead until the president corrects his highly unconstitutional and objectionable step of keeping Katawal in office,” Maoist spokesperson Dinanath Sharma said.
The Maoists accuse the army, on opposite sides of a civil war that ended three years ago, of undermining the authority of the civilian government.
The former rebels suspect that Katawal was loyal to the monarchy that was abolished last year and that he was backed by neighbouring India, the main regional power that critics say tries to meddle in Nepal’s affairs.
Maoists still hold away
The Maoists have said they could consider backing a new government if Katawal is removed.
Their numbers are crucial in a highly fractured Nepali Parliament.
The main opposition, the Nepali Congress, is not bidding to lead a new coalition and has said it would back the moderate communist UML party if it staked a claim to form government.
The political uncertainty may delay the drafting of a new constitution, a key part of a 2006 peace deal that led to the Maoists laying down their arms before they won a 2008 election.
While the Maoists have warned of street protests, analysts said Prachanda’s standing within the party had gone up since his resignation.
“They won’t go back to the jungle but they’re more than ready to take to the streets and paralyse any new administration,” Rhoderick Chalmers, Nepal head of the Brussels-based think-tank International Crisis Group, wrote in India’s Mail Today.
“They clearly command significant public support ... Prachanda’s strongly worded but dignified resignation address was a claim to the moral high ground ... that may resonate with ordinary citizens,” he said.
The crisis has also become a regional concern. India, already worried by troubles in neighbouring Pakistan and Sri Lanka and in the middle of its own general election, fears more political instability in another nearby state like Nepal.
India is Nepal’s biggest trade partner and has great influence in the country, but it has also been accused of backing the army general against Prachanda. Some analysts say India was fearful that Prachanda was diplomatically edging towards China.
For ordinary Nepalis, the crisis was a blow to the optimism sparked by the Maoist election victory last year.
Nepalis found themselves struggling with daily power outages, high prices, massive fuel shortages and worsening public security and there were signs of disillusionment in the new democracy.
“The Maoists haven’t delivered and they [the voters] see them as just like any other party,” said Kunda Dixit, editor of the weekly Nepali Times. “But the people will not take it kindly if the Maoists are seen as obstructing.” - Reuters
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