KATHMANDU: Nepal’s capital was braced for a wave of Maoist demonstrations Tuesday after a bitter stand-off with the national army forced the ex-rebels’ leader to resign as prime minister.
The collapse of the ultra-leftists’ cabinet after just eight months in office leaves the impoverished country without an effective government, and threatens a 2006 peace deal that ended a decade of civil war.
Maoist leader Prachanda announced Monday he was quitting as premier after his decision to sack Nepal’s army chief, a longtime rival, was vetoed by President Ram Baran Yadav, a member of the main opposition Nepali Congress party.
“The move by the president is an attack on this infant democracy and the peace process,” said Prachanda, who led a bitter insurgency before signing up for peace and pushing through the abolition of Nepal’s Hindu monarchy.
“The interim constitution does not give any right to the president to act as a parallel power,” he said in a televised address, accusing the president of being “unconstitutional and undemocratic.”
The Maoists tried to sack the army chief, General Rookmangud Katawal, for refusing to integrate 19,000 former Maoist fighters — currently confined to United Nations-supervised camps — into the regular army as stipulated by the peace accord.
The army has refused to take in hardened guerrillas whom it views as politically indoctrinated, and also accuses the Maoists of not fulfilling commitments to dismantle the paramilitary structure of their feared youth wing.
Prachanda, however, has long argued that the dispute is merely part of a wider campaign to undermine his democratically elected government, which was formed after the ex-rebels scored a surprise win in landmark polls last year.
“The army chief stood against the peace process and we sacked him legitimately, but the president ignored the decision of the elected government,” senior Maoist official Dev Gurung told AFP.
“Civilian supremacy has been violated and we are not going to tolerate this,” he said, threatening a repeat of the kind of popular protests the Maoists used to undermine Nepal’s former king.
“We will launch nationwide peaceful demonstrations from the streets beginning Tuesday,” he said.
The crisis has already brought thousands of pro and anti-Maoist demonstrators on to the streets of Kathmandu, with police maintaining a heavy presence to prevent any clashes.
The resignation of Prachanda — whose real name is Pushpa Kamal Dahal, but who goes by a nom-de-guerre meaning “fierce one” — now leaves the landlocked Himalayan nation in political limbo.
Officials said the president asked Prachanda to stay on as a caretaker premier until a new government is formed, but Gurung said the Maoists were taking to the streets until the army chief is ousted.
In last year’s elections, the Maoists won 40 percent of the seats in a new constitutional assembly — making them the largest single party but short of an absolute majority to govern alone.
Their main rivals have sided with the president, and have said they will start talks Tuesday on forming a new government.
“We will build national political consensus to form a new government,” said Ishwor Pokhrel, head of the centre-left UML party, which holds less than half the seats of the Maoists.
But observers say the Nepali Congress and the UML — the second and third-largest parties — will have trouble garnering support from a host of smaller ethnic parties and independents to form a government without the Maoists.
Even if they do get the numbers, a coalition not involving the ex-rebels would be fragile, lacking in legitimacy and seen by the Maoists as a provocation, diplomats say.
The political process is further complicated because Nepal’s new, post-royal constitution has yet to be written.