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Coalition partners wrangle over constitution, Terai and road map

Coalition partners wrangle over constitution, Terai and road map
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First Published: Thu, Sep 18 2008. 11 24 PM IST

Updated: Fri, Sep 19 2008. 12 37 PM IST
Kathmandu: In the new republic of Nepal, it seems, nothing is as certain as political uncertainty.
A section of the main party in the ruling coalition wants to set up a totalitarian regime. The chief constituents of the government hold divergent views on the proposed constitution and have shown signs of wanting to part ways. Internal rows, too, seem endless, and are threatening to derail the constitution-building process.
A debate is raging within Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s party, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), or CPN(M), on whether to go ahead with the democratic peace drive, or return to the agenda of “total revolution” and establish a totalitarian communist regime, a line favoured by hardliners such as Mohan Vaidya, alias Kiran.
Also see Nepal At A Glance (Graphic)
“We will meet shortly to chart out a strategy for the course to follow,” said a CPN(M) leader who didn’t want to be named.
Dahal, also known as Prachanda, a former Maoist rebel, was elected prime minister by the constituent assembly on 15 August. One of the first decisions of the assembly, formed after the April elections, was to abolish Nepal’s monarchy and proclaim it a republic — the world’s youngest.
A government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: “The forces within and outside the country are threatening this government. Prachanda has a long road ahead of him.” Differences within the CPN(M) have prompted the comparatively liberal Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist), or CPN(UML), to increasingly veer towards the opposition Nepali Congress in attempts to forge a joint front.
To make matters worse, Madhesi Janaadhikar Forum, or MJF, a government ally, analysts say, may pull out after its national convention to be held in February, on the issue of making the Terai region a separate state. Both the CPN(M) and CPN(UML) oppose granting statehood to the region.
“Nepali people are going through a confusing time. If the present coalition is unable to do anything, then there is only one way for this country to go — which is down,” said Prashant Aryal, editor of Nepal National Weekly, a weekly magazine.
In the 575-member assembly, CPN(M) is the largest party with 227 seats, followed by the Nepali Congress with 113 members. CPN(UML), MJF and Terai Madhesi Janaadhikar Forum have 108, 52 and 21 seats, respectively.
“There is a very strong emergence of identity-based politics in Nepal,” said an official at the Indian embassy, asking not to be named. “There is a lot of contradiction. The CPN(M) itself is not solidly behind the peace process.”
There is growing apprehension among the citizens about the formulation of the constitution, which is required to be passed within two-and-a-half years of the first meeting of the constituent assembly.
“Interacting with the CPN(M), we got this sense that if they are able to do so, they would set up a totalitarian government in Nepal. How far they succeed in this is left to be seen,” said Minendra Rijal, a Nepali Congress member of the constituent assembly. “CPN(UML) is in a lot of dilemma as they have realized this. Even the sanctity of the recently held elections is questionable.”
On whether the Nepali Congress has made overtures to the CPN(UML), Rijal said: “Until CPN(UML) make up their mind which way they go, it wouldn’t make any difference. We tried it after the results were out, but they went with the CPN(M).”
Rijal is a close confidant of Sher Bahadur Deuba, who lost to Dahal by a margin of 351 votes in the Constituent Assembly on 15 August.
“This is a number game. We will still need support from parties such as MJF (to form a joint front),” Rijal added.
Minister of peace and reconstruction Janardan Sharma “Prabhakar” downplayed differences, saying, “There is consensus in differences. Without any difference, there cannot be any consensus. We as a government will solve the differences within.” He was referring to the differences between deputy prime minister and home minister Bamdev Gautam and minister for land reform Matrika Yadav. Yadav is from the CPN(M) and Gautam belongs to the CPN(UML). Both are engaged in a row over an alleged land grab by Yadav’s associates — an issue that has caught national attention.
Reacting to charges of instability being raised against the coalition, Sharma said: “Our budget is yet to come. Let it be presented and be implemented. Only then the indications of development will be felt.”
Finance minister Baburam Bhattarai will present Nepal’s first-ever budget on Friday, but the country’s business leaders remain sceptical.
“There is already a lot of disenchantment. The present leaders in the government do not have the experience to run a country. I am not sure whether this coalition will work. But what choices do we really have?” said a banker who didn’t wish to be named.
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First Published: Thu, Sep 18 2008. 11 24 PM IST