KATHMANDU: The political crisis dogging Nepal for seven months intensified on Thursday with the new Prime Minister, Mr Jhala Nath Khanal forced to swear in a three-member cabinet as his allies, the Maoists, refused to join the government, just a week after they had helped the communist leader come to power.
“The prime minister’s party failed to clarify whether it will follow the spirit and intent of the pact he signed with us,” the Maoist deputy chief, Mr Narayan Kaji Shrestha Prakash told mediapersons after power-sharing talks between Mr Khanal and the Maoist chief, Mr Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda broke down yet again.
“They also refused to follow the agreement on the allocation of ministries, making us deeply apprehensive. In this situation, the party has decided not to join the new government,” Mr Shrestha said. However, Maoists will continue to support the new government from outside, he added.
The Maoist MP flayed “foreign forces” for the debacle. Though he did not name any country, the former rebels, since the fall of their government in 2009, have been blaming India.
They accuse New Delhi of preventing Mr Prachanda’s victory in 16 rounds of fruitless prime ministerial election.
On February 3, when the nascent republic held the 17th round of vote, Prachanda said he was withdrawing his candidacy and backing Mr Khanal to show India its interference in Nepal’s internal matters would not be brooked.
But winning the election proved a costly victory for Mr Khanal after the secret deal he made with the Maoists to win their support became known.
Mr Khanal’s own party, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML), flayed it and demanded that the terms be revised.
The two most contentious clauses are the agreement to form a new security force for the Maoists’ nearly 20,000-member strong guerrilla army, and to have the government led by both parties by turns.
As the price for supporting Mr Khanal, the Maoists had also demanded key ministries, including home affairs.
But Mr Khanal’s party opposed the demand and the continued row prevented the beleaguered PM from swearing in a full cabinet even seven days after being elected.
Mr Khanal finally expanded his cabinet Thursday naming three more ministers from his own party. They are Mr Bharat Mohan Adhikary, who is the deputy prime minister, Mr Ganga Lal Tuladhar and Mr Bishnu Poudel.
Neither Mr Poudel nor Mr Tuladhar was allocated a portfolio as Mr Khanal sought to woo other parties, especially those from the Terai plains.
Both Mr Adhikary and Mr Tuladhar had lost in the 2008 elections while Mr Poudel is a former energy minister whose tenure saw Nepal suffer 18 hours’ power outages daily.
The portfolio row had also affected the functioning of Parliament and the key task of writing the new constitution.
Parliament was not able to sit due to the absence of the cabinet. The constitutional committee, that is drafting the new statute, said over 80 disputed issues have not been resolved as the top leaders remained absorbed in power deals.
The Maoist enmity leaves little doubt that Mr Khanal will fail to promulgate a new constitution by May 28.
He has already antagonised his former ally, the centrist Nepali Congress, by deserting it during the election.
With the Maoists and Nepali Congress being the two largest parties in Parliament, Mr Khanal’s minority government will find it tough, if not downright impossible, to have the constitution and state policies passed by parliament since that requires two-third majority.
The first acid test is February 15, by which the new prime minister will have to get the budget endorsed by Parliament or face a finance crisis.
His preceding government had enforced the budget through an ordinance after facing Maoist opposition and now, the new government has to get it endorsed by legislators by February 15, failing which all state funds and financial activities will be frozen.