Nepal's Reprieved PM Refuses to Quit

By Sudeshna Sarkar

Kathmandu, May 31 (IANS) It took Nepal's Prime Minister Jhala Nath Khanal seven months and 17 rounds of vote to get elected to his post. Then it took him another three months to form his cabinet.

Now wagers are being made about how long it would take him to resign despite signing an agreement Sunday to step down.

"It's shameful that the prime minister did not resign even 72 hours after promising to quit," said former deputy prime minister K.P. Sharma Oli, who belongs to Khanal's own communist party. "He made this promise before the same parliament which helped him come to power. Now the only step left is for him to go to the president (with his resignation letter)."

On Sunday, faced with the dissolution of the interim constitution, parliament and with it, his three-month-old government, Khanal managed to wriggle out of a dire constitutional crisis by reaching an agreement with the main opposition party, the Nepali Congress (NC).

The NC, that had been opposing Khanal's bid to extend the term of parliament by one more year to May 28, 2012, finally agreed to bail him out by three months more provided he quit.

But now, the reprieved PM is hedging over his resignation.

"I agreed to quit when there's an agreement to form a national government," he told querying journalists at a public programme Sunday.

"Let there be a national government first."

The opposition however says Khanal is interpreting the agreement wrongly.

"He has to resign first to pave the way for a national government," NC leader and former prime ministerial contender Ram Chandra Poudel said. "He should resign at the earliest."

Another former deputy prime minister, Bijay Kumar Gachhedar, whose Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (Democratic) party is from a bloc of three regional parties also asking Khanal to step down, said the prime minister should resign immediately "if he had a conscience".

Even Khanal's own party men are clamouring for his resignation.

A rival faction within the party, led by former premier Madhav Kumar Nepal, says if Khanal does not go immediately, the peace process, which has to be completed by Aug 28, will be in jeopardy.

Nepal has reasons to be demanding Khanal's ouster. Last year, when Nepal was the prime minister, Khanal joined the Maoists to seek the government's fall and become prime minister himself.

It took Nepal one month to resign. Now Khanal is likely to take even longer. As long as the Maoists, the largest party in parliament, support him, he will refuse to heed the call for his resignation.

Given Nepal's political parties' history of protracted squabbles over power-sharing, it could take the opposition a long time to agree on a new premier who would be accepted by all parties.

However, by dawdling, Khanal faces two grave perils.

If he continues to cling on to power, the opposition parties could block the budget, which has to be tabled in parliament soon.

More seriously, they could also impede the writing of the new constitution, the first draft of which has to be ready by May 28, 2012.

If the government fails, for the third time, to meet the constitutional deadline, there may not be any more extensions for parliament and with it, for the council of ministers.


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