| Surya Bahadur Thapa
Kathmandu, June 9: Despite the confidence with which he staked his claim for leading a government of national consensus, Nepal’s new Prime Minister Surya Bahadur Thapa is no closer to reaching an agreement with political parties than his predecessor, Lokendra Bahadur Chand, had been.
Chand, appointed in October 2002,quit on May 30 this year to ease the pressure that the political parties had put on the king. Politicians have been agitating for the re-instatement of parliament, dissolved more than a year ago, and the formation of an all-party government.
Thapa’s attempts to get other parties to join his government have been unsuccessful. Leaders of the three largest parties in the last parliament, including Nepali Congress chief, Girija Prasad Koirala, have rebuffed his overtures. Indications are that the Prime Minister will have to rely on his own party, the Rashtriya Prajatantra Party (to which Chand also belongs), and smaller outfits to cobble together a Cabinet.
King Gyanendra’s appointment of Thapa has attracted criticism from the beginning, as it breached an understanding the king had arrived at with leaders of major parties when Chand quit.
The king had then asked the agitating parties to name a consensus candidate for Prime Minister, and they came up with the name of Madhav Kumar Nepal, general secretary of the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist), the biggest party in the last parliament.
But the king instead chose Thapa, a former prime minister who served three of his four previous terms during the three decades of direct rule by the monarchy from 1960 onwards.
After his nomination, Thapa said the ongoing agitation could no longer be justified since executive powers had been transferred back to the Premier with his appointment — but the other parties did not quite agree.
Thapa’s present manoeuvres come amid growing criticism of the king by political parties and the Maoist rebels, currently observing a ceasefire after seven years of violence. Speaking at a rally in his home district of Gorkha, west of Kathmandu, top Maoist leader Baburam Bhattarai said King Gyanendra’s refusal to abdicate and relinquish control over the army was hindering progress on talks.
Parties have become increasingly vocal in demanding that the King declare his assets as well as that of his late brother, King Birendra. This was one of the resolutions passed at the June 6-7 ‘special session’ of the National Assembly. The upper house session was held in a public place after Opposition MPs were barred from parliament.
Promising to continue peace talks with the Maoists, Thapa has said peace is a pre-condition for fresh elections. But the rebels have stated they are not satisfied with his appointment and have announced a country-wide ‘peaceful’ movement in which they may make common cause with the political parties.