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Nepal PM Prachanda quits
Bishnu Budhathoki writes from Kathmandu

Less than 24 hours after trying to sack the Chief of the Army Staff, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal was himself forced to step down on Monday, having lost majority support in the Parliament. The Army chief, ironically, continues to be in charge after being directed to do so by the President, who is also the supreme commander.

And hours after Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal tendered his resignation, Maoists declared their intention to launch an agitation from Tuesday, both ‘in and outside the Parliament’, against the alleged extra-constitutional act of President Ram Baran Yadav. A group of lawyers also filed a PIL in the Supreme Court challenging President Yadav’s communication to the Chief of the Army Staff, asking him to continue in his post after the cabinet had dismissed him. The case is likely to come up for hearing tomorrow.

The PIL states that the ceremonial head of state does not have the executive authority to ignore an elected government's decision. "The President does not have the power to act without the recommendation of the executive," the petition added.

Dahal had taken over as the first Prime Minister of the Republic of Nepal on August 15 last year. His is the second communist-led government to fall in Nepal before completing even a year in office. Earlier the CPN-UML led government too had lasted barely nine months in 1994.

Dahal announced his resignation in a 13-minute address to the nation in which he blamed “foreign powers” for interfering in Nepal’s internal affairs and President Yadav for creating a parallel centre of power against the people’s elected government.

The stand-off between the President and the Prime Minister followed yesterday’s ‘cabinet decision’ to sack the chief of the army staff. The opposition blamed the PM and Maoists for taking the unilateral decision, not supported by others. With two parties, CPN-UML and the Sadbhavna Party quitting the coalition and Madhesi People’s Forum also threatening to pull out, the coalition lost its majority in the constituent assembly.

Dahal in his address to the nation accused foreign powers, in a thinly veiled reference to India, of provoking the allegedly unconstitutional move of the President. While his party was committed to peace, democracy, national unity and territorial integrity, foreign powers, he said, had spread the canard that Maoists planned to capture state power and the Army. He called for an end to the ‘dual regime’.

The Maoist leader said some visible and invisible foreign powers have been exercising their influence in Nepal. "But we won't tolerate interference in Nepal's internal affairs," he said.

Political parties, including Nepali Congress and the UML, welcomed Dahal’s resignation and began consultations to form an all-party government with or without the Maoists. Nepali Congress leader Ram Sharan Mahat called upon the UML to propose name of a leader who would be acceptable to all.

UML has convened an all-party meeting on Tuesday for a consensus. If the Maoists refuse to join the government, UML will have to secure support of at least 301 members in the 601-member constituent assembly in order to form the next government. At least four other parties, namely Nepali Congress, Madhesi People’s Forum, Terai Madhesh Democratic Party and Sadbhavna Party will have to support the UML for their bid to be successful. But any such government, without participation of the Maoists, will find the going tough. The peace process and the drafting of the constitution will become doubly difficult.

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