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Ailing Koirala is PM, Maoists call ceasefire

Kathmandu, April 27: King Gyanendra today appointed Girija Prasad Koirala as the Prime Minister of Nepal.

The Maoists also helped create a propitious context for the formation of an interim government led by Koirala. They announced a unilateral ceasefire for three months.

Koirala, who deserves credit for setting the Maoists on the course of multi-party democracy, could not attend the victory rally that he was to address today. His health, a source of concern of late, forced him to cancel all his meetings. Popularly known as GP, Koirala is 84 years old, a chain smoker and asthmatic. His sudden indisposition brought the process of consultation for government formation to a standstill.

Sources close to Koirala claimed that he was preserving his energies for swearing in at 10 am tomorrow. His room at home, however, had virtually been converted into an ICU. He was on a drip with constant heart and lung monitoring.

Koirala will be followed to the swearing-in ceremony by a fully-equipped ambulance and his personal physician, Dr Madhu Ghimire. If the three large constituents of the seven-party alliance are able to choose two nominees each to the cabinet by 9 am tomorrow, then six ministers would also be sworn in with Koirala. Otherwise, another short swearing-in ceremony may be organised again in the afternoon.

After resting for two hours, Koirala would go to parliament and read out a short speech. He will thank the people for forcing the restoration of parliament, appeal to the Maoists to lay down arms while committing to adhere to the 12-point understanding with them, thank them for declaring a unilateral ceasefire and propose that parliament begin discussion on when and how elections to a Constituent Assembly can be held.

Koirala’s declining health has had two immediate consequences. His advisers are suggesting that he choose a competent and efficient minister without portfolio to assist him. And, even those political leaders who were not planning to join the interim government are now under pressure to do so.

“We are all praying for GP’s quick recovery. But in a time of crisis, there should not be political vacuum because of unforeseen circumstances,” said a worried activist.

The Nepali Congress Parliamentary Party elected Koirala its leader unanimously this morning in absentia. Later the seven-party alliance also elected him as their consensus candidate.

The king has appointed Koirala under Article 36 of the Constitution of Nepal of 1990. The Nepali Congress Parliamentary Party, which met this morning, debated whether it should recommend Koirala’s appointment under Article 36 (leader of the largest party) or under Article 42 (as someone who commands majority in the House of Representatives).

The Nepali Congress split after the dissolution of Parliament in May 2002, with Sherbahadur Deuba forming Nepali Congress (Democratic). But the Nepali Congress is still recognised as a single party in the re-instated parliament.

“Some MPs argued that since Deuba’s party is not a separate entity, we should go by the principle of the largest party. Others argued that the Prime Minister’s post should not be put in jeopardy and he should be appointed by claiming majority in the House,” said a Nepali Congress MP.

Finally, both principles were cited in a letter to the King.Meanwhile, the seven-party alliance has decided that besides announcing a Constituent Assembly in the first sitting of parliament, they would also declare all decisions taken in the king’s government null and void.

While Praliament itself was being spruced up and Marshals fitted with new uniforms, more than 200 journalists, including 88 accredited foreign correspondents, were jockeying for press passes to sit in a gallery that can barely house forty.

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