Khanal, Prachanda close to deal on power sharing

Khanal, Prachanda close to deal on power sharing Kathmandu: Nepal's new Prime Minister Jhalanath Khanal appeared to have reached an understanding with the Maoists over sharing of government ministries, with indications that the former rebels may get 11 portfolios in the new cabinet, including Home and Foreign Affairs.

The CPN-UML and the CPN-Maoists were sparring over power sharing for over 10 days when the new prime minister was sworn in, making it impossible for the government to function.

However, CPN-UML leader Khanal and Maoist chief Prachanda appear to have reached an understanding during a meeting the two held today, increasing the possibility of the largest party joining the government in a day or two.

Earlier, the Maoists had threatened that they would not join the government if the seven-point agreement reached between the two top leaders prior to Khanal's election, is not implemented.

During the meeting today, Prime Minister Khanal is believed to have agreed to concede 11 ministerial portfolios, including Home and Foreign Affairs to the Maoists, and keep eight for his CPN-UML party, Maoist sources said.

"We have tentatively discussed the power sharing issues and the Home and Foreign are likely to be allocated for our party," said Maoist spokesman Dinanath Sharma.

He, however, said that the final decision will be taken after the party's high-level meeting endorses the decision tomorrow.

Krishna Bahadur Mahara, foreign department chief of the party, is likely to be made deputy prime minister, sources close to the Maoist said.

However, press advisor to Prime Minister Surya Thapa appeared more cautious in revealing the details of today's meetings.

He said that though the two leaders had discussions regarding portfolio distribution, no final decision has so far been made regarding key ministries including Home and Foreign.

The matter will be settled after the Central Committee meeting of the party tomorrow, he said.

However, in the high-level meeting tomorrow, Khanal is likely to face strong opposition from the moderate group within the party, led by former Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal and K P Sharma Oli, over his reported deal with Prachanda on power sharing, particularly on giving Home Ministry to the Maoists.

Senior leader of the party Oli was not allowed to enter the Prime Minister's official residence today sparking a debate within the ruling party.

Oli has strongly opposed the 7-point pact between Prime Minister Khanal and Maoist chief Prachanda that was reached before the latter stepped out of the prime ministerial race in favour of the former.

The Khanal-Prachanda agreement includes, among other things, provisions to share the prime ministerial berth on rotational basis, sharing key ministries of Home, Defence and Foreign among the two largest Communist parties and setting up a separate force within the Nepal Army while integrating the Maoist combatants.

Some opposition parties, including the Nepali Congress, and a section within the CPN-UML, have made their reservations known on giving the vital Home Ministry to the former rebels and on clauses in the so-called 7-point agreement on forming a separate security force for Maoist combatants.

The main opposition Nepali Congress party has strongly opposed the 7-point deal saying it violated all the peace agreements signed in the past and the interim Constitution.

NC leader Sujata Koirala had said earlier that her party may join a national consensus government if Premier Khanal amends the 7-point power-sharing deal he reached with the Maoist supremo.

However, main opposition leader Ramchandra Poudyal said there was no possibility of joining a Maoist-led government, and contended that the views expressed by Koirala were her "personal views".

Poudyal claimed the seven-point deal was a ploy to deceive the people.