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Nepal give-and-take to form govt

Kathmandu, March 29: After extracting mutual assurances from each other, Nepal’s eight-party alliance, including the Maoists, has decided to form an interim government tomorrow.

Compromises were worked out throughout the day in separate meetings Koirala held with Maoist chief Prachanda, general secretary of Communist Party of Nepal (Untied Marxist Leninist) Madhav Nepal and president of the Nepali Congress (Democratic) Sherbahadur Deuba.

All grievances were overcome. They related to the relative hierarchy of the different parties in the proposed interim government, importance of various portfolios and the past experience of interference of the Prime Minister preventing ministers from other parties from functioning independently. In the end, the need for a broad compromise prevailed.

The three big parties in the eight-party coalition will each give up berths in the cabinet to accommodate the Maoists. The Nepali Congress will give up two berths and reduce its portfolios from seven to five and the CPN (UML) and the NC (D) will give up one portfolio each. Together, with the creation of a new ministry of peace and reconstruction, five portfolios would thus become available to the Maoists.

There will be three, or even four, deputy Prime Ministers — one each from the Nepali Congress, Maoists and CPN (UML). Attempts were on to convince Amik Sherchan of the Jan Morcha, currently a deputy Prime Minister, not to insist on continuing. However, he, too, may be inducted, taking the number of deputy Prime Ministers to four.

Most significantly, the Maoists have agreed to return all “fixed” property (land, houses, buildings) seized by them to their rightful owners within a week. This had been a major demand of the political parties.

Koirala has also agreed, in principle, to several Maoist proposals. These include support for an amendment to the interim constitution allowing the removal of monarchy by a two-thirds majority in Parliament; a code of conduct for the functioning of the coalition government; preparing for constituent assembly elections by the end of June; and taking steps to improve the management of cantonments where Maoist combatants are staying.

Prachanda has also requested Koirala to take up the issue of continuing violence in Nepal’s Terai (“Madhes”) with New Delhi during his visit. He believes that royalists and Hindu fundamentalists from India are fanning the agitation. Prachanda told his central committee meeting last night that this was being done to create obstacles to holding the constituent assembly election that these forces fear will transform Nepal into a republic.

The request to seek Indian support for tackling the problem in Terai was also raised by Madhav Nepal. The Maoists and the CPN (UML) want India to ensure smooth flow of supplies across the border points.

On Wednesday, at Jogbani in Bihar on the Indian side of the border, a sit-in by an outfit called the Seema Jagaran Manch in support of the Madhesis stopped all Indo-Nepal traffic. Nearly 300 cargo trucks move through the Jogbani crossing daily.

Madhav Nepal also wanted an assurance from Koirala that the constituent assembly election would be held in June and all legislation required for the election enacted within 15 days.

Deuba did not want to reduce the representation of his party, the Nepali Congress (Democratic), but managed to ensure that it keeps the economically important water resources ministry.

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