Kathmandu: Facing growing calls for a probe into an audio tape catching the opposition Maoist party seeking to buy MPs’ votes ahead of a crucial Prime Ministerial Election, the former guerrillas have decided to go on the offensive, announcing a fresh "protest" movement.
Maoist lawmaker and spokesman Dinanath Sharma said his party will start a month-long "soft movement" from Friday, which will include postering, graffiti and mass meetings.
Though the former rebels say the movement is for peace, a new constitution and "national self-respect", the decision smacks of a counter-offensive to bury the scandal that erupted this month following the appearance of an audio tape.
Heard on the tape is the voice of Maoist MP and former minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara, who seeks NRS 500 million from an unidentified male. The money was intended to buy the votes of 50 MPs from regional parties and ensure Maoist chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda’s victory in the ongoing Prime Ministerial Election.
The male caller is heard saying that a friend in China is ready to give the money and tries to fix a meeting between Maoist leaders and the donor in Hong Kong.
Though the Maoists initially denied the conversation and said the tape had been faked, now however, they have changed tack and are seeking to divert attention from the issue of bribery.
On Sunday, the central committee of the party decided to fire a salvo, calling the tape a threat to national sovereignty.
The top Maoist leaders said only the Indian embassy, American embassy and Nepal Army had the capability to tap and record phone calls, making a virtual admission that the tape was genuine.
However, they are now projecting it as a matter of foreign interference and threat to Nepal’s national security.
"The most important thing is that the tape is a serious violation of human rights and poses a severe threat to our national security," Sharma said.
More than a week ago, the Maoists announced they would conduct an internal investigation into the tape. But till now, there has been no effort to do so.
To deflect criticism, they have also intensified an anti-India campaign, accusing India’s external intelligence agency RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) of circulating the tape and preventing Prachanda from winning the election.
The audio tape was preceded by a video tape in the past that caught Prachanda boasting that he had wilfully inflated the strength of his guerrilla fighters to the UN in a bid to extend control over the national army, where the fighters were to have been inducted.
The video tape hurt Prachanda’s credibility and has obstructed the peace process with the ruling parties now refusing to integrate the Maoist fighters in the Army en masse.
Though Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal resigned in June and Parliament held seven rounds of election to choose a new premier, the Maoists have failed to win, falling short of the 300-vote mark due to two of the largest groups in the house remaining neutral.
The next round of election is due on September 26.