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Defiant Bhattarai puts Dahal in a fix

KATHMANDU, DEC 18 - UCPN (Maoist) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal finds himself in a spot of bother following his party deputy and Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai’s refusal to step down  to pave the way for a unity government headed by Nepali Congress President Sushil Koirala, say Maoist party insiders.

Prime Minister Bhattarai has taken up an unusually rigid position and put up new demands to the Nepali Congress, which is not in the spirit of the NC-Maoist dialogue in the last few days, according to both Maoist and NC leaders.

“The prime minister appeared especially to have gone back on his early promise for a compromise after Sunday evening,” said a key Nepali Congress leader privy to the two-party negotiations.

The major political forces—UCPN (Maoist), Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and the Samyukta Loktantrik Madhesi Morcha—were all set to seal a deal on unity government formation and holding elections in April-May, he said.

But the deal became remote suddenly after the PM refused to leave office demanding his “dignified exit”. The delay in consensus among the parties has diminished the possibility of second CA polls being held by April-May next year. Key NC negotiators say inter-party talks were sailing smoothly until Sunday evening but were disrupted after PM Bhattarai took a firm stance that he would not quit urgently.

His deputy’s “non-cooperation” has put Dahal in a difficult position as he has already committed to opposition parties that the government leadership will be handed over to the NC once the parties reach a package deal. “The chairman will not backtrack on his commitment,” said a leader close to Dahal. Leaders seem upbeat that consensus with other parties will be possible after “an agreement within the party”.

If Dahal backtracks, according to leaders, it will raise serious questions about his credibility and hold in the party. Dahal also feels that handing over government leadership to NC is not a wise step from the party’s perspective but he strongly believes that it is necessary to salvage the ongoing peace and constitution-writing process. According to leaders, Dahal’s planned agreement with opposition parties was another risky decision for the party like the one taken on April 10 to bring Maoist combatants under the Nepal Army.

The Maoist chairman on Tuesday started intra-party deliberations to form consensus within the party. Deputy Prime Minister and party Vice-chairman Narayan Kaji Shrestha and Finance Minister Barsha Man Pun also support PM Bhattarai’s position that NC and UML join the incumbent government, albeit for a brief period, and his government completes all the election related tasks, including fixing the date.

On November 22, a day before President Ram Baran Yadav called on parties to recommend a consensus prime ministerial candidate as per Article 38(1), PM Bhattarai had expressed willingness with the President and Dahal to resign.

Dahal then suggested that Bhattarai not resign without a broader agreement among the parties. “But when the parties were close to a deal on Monday, Bhattarai unexpectedly refused to give way,” said another leader close to Dahal.

Dahal supporters say they are not against turning the incumbent government into one of national consensus, but the party should not stick to it as the opposition parties have agreed for a package deal. Dahal was ready to hand over the government leadership after the NC committed that if the elections were not held its government would resign.

Posted on: 2012-12-19 08:30

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