Nepal's Maoists seek return to power after PM resigns

Nepal's Maoists had pressured the prime minister to resign since he replaced their leader a year ago. As the largest party in parliament, they hope to lead the next government.

Gemunu Amarasinghe/AP Photo
Nepal's Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal speaks during a televised speech announcing his resignation at his official residence in Katmandu, Nepal, June 30. Nepal resigned Wednesday, bowing to pressure from opposition Maoists who have been demanding his ouster in parliament and on the streets.

Nepal’s former Maoist rebels are seeking to return to power, one day after successfully pressuring Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal to resign and a year after their coalition government collapsed over their leader Prachanda’s order to sack the Army chief.

President Ram Baran Yadav has given the political parties until July 7 to form a government based on political consensus.

The Maoists, who had been demanding Mr. Nepal’s resignation since he replaced Prachanda in May last year, welcomed the move and initiated talks to form an all-party government under their leadership.

As the largest party in parliament, the Maoists have a legitimate claim to lead the new government. But internal disputes could get in the way: Prachanda’s popularity plummeted after an unimpressive nine months in office last time around, and party members are calling for his deputy, Baburam Bhattarai, to be nominated as prime minister instead.

But “if rival parties support that call, Prachanda might force his party to stay in opposition,” says Narayan Wagle, editor of Nagarik daily.

Such an event would likely prolong the political deadlock that has stalled the country’s peace process for more than a year – and defeat the purpose of Mr. Nepal’s stepping down.

“The Maoists have been offered the opportunity to justify their claim that his government had hindered the peace process,” says Raghuji Pant, Mr. Nepal’s political adviser and senior leader of their party, the CPN-UML. “Let’s see how they fare.”

Political deadlock has stalled peace process

The peace process began in 2006 when the Maoists agreed to end their insurgency. As part of the deal, elections were held in 2008 for a special assembly that was tasked with writing a new constitution by May 28 of this year.

The Maoists won 40 percent of seats in the assembly, which doubles as a parliament, and Prachanda – who goes by one name – took over as prime minister. But his decision a year later to fire the Army chief backfired, and prompted the fall of his government. It also led some parties to believe that the Maoists were using the peace process as a means to establish a totalitarian regime.

Meanwhile, political deadlock set in as Maoists organized street protests to pressure Mr. Nepal to step down.

As May 28 neared, with no constitution in hand, both sides decided to extend by one year both the deadline and the term of the assembly.

The ruling coalition also promised that Mr. Nepal would resign, after the Maoists outlined a timetable to settle the future of more than 19,000 former combatants, disbanded their paramilitary youth wing, and returned property formally seized during and after their 10-year armed conflict.

The Maoists may interpret the resignation as a vindication of their yearlong protests, says Yubaraj Ghimire, editor of Rajdhani daily. He expects to see a power struggle rather than consensus-building in the days following Mr. Nepal’s resignation.

“It is likely to lead to greater political polarization,” he says.

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