| Businessmen protest against Maoist extortion in Kathmandu on Monday. (AFP)
New Delhi, March 20: Although the Maoists in Nepal are expected to join the government some time this week, major hurdles need to be overcome before that happens.
According to sources close to the negotiations on government formation, the Maoists have put forward three pre-conditions for joining the government.
There is no consensus as yet on any of them. The Maoists claim that the cantonments where their combatants are located are not properly managed. They want each of the 31,000 combatants in the cantonments to be paid a monthly allowance of Rs 3,000 per month with back wages for the four months they have been there.
The Maoist aim seems to be that once their combatants in the cantonments are paid a monthly allowance, the case for accommodating them in government forces later would become strong. Therefore, it is quite likely that they might even settle for one-third the amount or less.
The second issue is of power sharing. The Maoists do not only want numerical representation in the cabinet of G.P. Koirala, they also want meaningful portfolios.
Their demand is either for one amongst the three key portfolios of home, defence and finance or two out of five portfolios of home, defence, finance, foreign affairs and information & communications.
Koirala does not want to give home, defence and finance portfolios either to the Maoists or to another alliance partner, the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist Leninist). The foreign affairs portfolio is already with the CPN (UML) and they do not want to give it up.
Lastly, the Maoists want that the eight-party alliance should agree to an amendment to the Interim Constitution allowing for the removal of monarchy, if such a need arises, by a two-thirds majority.
Although Koirala in a speech in his hometown of Biratnagar had demanded that the present King Gyanendra and the Crown Prince Paras should step down, some say that he may be toying with the idea of anointing Paras’s son Hridayendra as the heir apparent with the Prime Minister as the Regent.
The Maoists, however, want abolition of the institution of monarchy and seem concerned that if the institution survives, Gyanendra and Paras will manipulate the young Hirdayendra.
There is the also a problem of how many deputy prime ministers there should be in the new interim government. The Maoists want only one deputy prime minister and from their ranks. Since Koirala will continue to be the Prime Minister and the Speaker of the Interim Legislature is from the CPN (UML), the Maoists claim the post of deputy prime minister.
However, Koirala’s party, the Nepali Congress wants to appoint a senior deputy prime minister from its own ranks to take care of any untoward eventuality.
The Prime Minister is 83 years old and keeps indifferent health. Should he become incapacitated to perform his duties before the Constituent Assembly elections then the senior deputy prime minister should take over from him.
The CPN (UML), with a deputy prime minister in the present government, also claims the post. In effect then, there could be three deputy prime ministers in the new dispensation.
The Maoists argue that this would make the new cabinet a “cabinet of deputy PMs”. To overcome these difficulties, Koirala has proposed a much smaller cabinet of one minister each from the eight parties than the 23 to 25-member cabinet being proposed. No one is agreeable to this.
The government is also pressing the Maoists to discipline and control its Youth Communist League (YCL) which has being creating disturbances in the country by beating up people and indulging in some extortion. There are allegations that the hardcore combatants of the Maoists have not gone into cantonments but have instead joined the YCL and that this is deliberate on their part.
The Maoists, the government has claimed, have not kept their promise of returning the property they forcibly seized during the insurgency. Several top leaders of the Nepali Congress are landowners who want their property returned before the Maoists join the government.
Some aggressive public statements from the Maoists further complicate the political scene. The most disturbing of them has been a statement in a public meeting in Baglung by the Maoists chief Prachanda.
He claimed that the Maoists still had the capacity to launch four simultaneous attacks if they wanted. This coupled with rumours that the Maoists have not put all their weapons under UN supervision, has created uneasiness about the extent of their faith in the ongoing peace process.