Nepal’s prime minister resigns amid power struggle


Nepal’s prime minister resigned Monday amid a power struggle over his firing of the army chief, saying he was stepping down to “save the peace process” that brought the Himalayan nation out of a bloody decade-long civil war.

Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, a former Maoist guerrilla leader, made the announcement on television Monday afternoon, one day after his firing of the army chief was rejected by President Ram Baran Yadav — who officially leads the army — and which caused some of his key political allies to withdraw from the ruling coalition.

“The unconstitutional and undemocratic move by the president has pushed the country toward a serious political crisis. The president has no power to act alone without prior approval of the Cabinet on such matters,” Dahal said in his resignation speech. “It is a fatal attack on the infant democracy.”

Hours later, the Maoists vowed to launch protests and shut down the government in protest.

“We have decided to begin mass protests … and stall parliament until the president takes back his decision,” the Maoists’ party spokesman Nath Sharma said.

The party has substantial support in rural areas and is capable of gathering tens of thousands of people in the streets of Katmandu and other cities for demonstrations.

Nepal’s Maoists fought a bloody, 10-year war against the government before joining the political mainstream in 2006, and then winning the most votes during elections last year that helped bring an end to the Himalayan country’s centuries-old monarchy.

But despite the Maoists’ rise to power, many of their former fighters remain restricted to U.N.-monitored barracks under a peace accord.

Dahal wanted the guerrillas freed and integrated into the military, as prescribed under a U.N.-brokered peace agreement. But the army chief resisted those efforts and sparred repeatedly with the government.

Dahal said Monday he decided to step down “to create a conducive environment and save the peace process.”

After Dahal dismissed Katawal, the Maoist’s main coalition partner, the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist Leninist), and other key coalition members withdrew from the government.

Dahal’s Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) has the most members in the national assembly but does not hold a majority, and needs the support of smaller parties to stay in control of the government.

Immediately following the prime minister’s announcement, authorities announced a ban on protests in key parts of Katmandu, including areas around the president’s residence and office. Police in riot gear were deployed across the city.

Security forces had already been on alert, anticipating street clashes.

Earlier Monday, thousands of Maoist supporters rallied in Katmandu, the capital, to show support for the government and denounce the president’s action. Elsewhere in the city, supporters of the main opposition, the Nepali Congress party, blocked traffic with burning tires, chanting slogans against the government and the Maoists.

There were no reports of any clashes between the two sides, but Home Ministry official Navin Ghimire said security forces were preparing to deal with unrest.

“We are expecting trouble and are prepared to stop violence in the streets. Policemen are on high alert and will be mobilized throughout the capital,” Ghimire said.

The fall of the Maoist-led government had been predicted by analysts.

“It has become almost impossible for the Maoists to remain in government in the present situation,” said Ameet Dhakal, editor of Republica, a leading newspaper, said Sunday in an interview. “It’s a big crisis for the country now.”

Anger against the government has been running high in Nepal, where much of the public blames the Maoists for power outages that can last more than 16 hours a day, fuel shortages that have created endless lines at gas stations, and rising prices for food and other household staples.

But the Maoists are still revolutionary heroes to many, especially among rural villagers who voted them into power last year in Nepal’s first elections. The centuries-old monarchy was abolished soon after.

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