Will 13 prove lucky for Nepal's new PM?
Kathmandu: The chief of Nepal's ruling Maoist party, Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda, on Monday publicly threw his weight behind his deputy and new Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai, a day after the latter had struggled to expand his cabinet, saying he would now focus on the peace process and new constitution.
The former revolutionary, who faces accusations of frittering away three deadlines for drafting a new constitution due to his fruitless bids to become Nepal's premier once again, said the next three months would be a "test by fire" and he would neither "look left nor right" but concentrate on drafting the new constitution.
"I am not interested to become the prime minister of Nepal or president or minister," Prachanda said at a public programme in Kathmandu, asking people to support the fledgling government led by his sometime rival and sometime party peer, the India-educated Bhattarai.
The show of support comes after the new prime minister inducted 13 more new ministers on Sunday evening amidst continuing tiffs with both his allies and comrades.
Six of the new ministers are from Bhattarai's own party. However, though the faction headed by Prachanda has been appeased for now and joined the cabinet, the group led by hardliner Maoist leader Mohan Baidya refused to bury the hatchet.
Baidya, who is opposed to the disbanding of the Maoists' People's Liberation Army (PLA), is demanding that Bhattarai and Prachanda scrap their decision to hand over the keys to the PLA arsenals to the government.
Last week, Baidya's supporters held public protests in Kathmandu and now the feud has been postponed to September 18, when the party leaders will debate the gesture once more.
Bhattarai's allies, a bloc of seven ethnic parties from the Terai plains who helped him win the PM vote on August 28, are also proving to be a thorn in the flesh with their demands for key ministries.
While the bloc was promised 11 ministries, on Monday it sent just seven ministers, thanks to continued bickering.
Though the new cabinet has two deputy prime ministers, there is however only one woman minister, despite Nepal's policy that women would be given 33 percent representation in all state organs.
The tussle over forming the cabinet has already taken up a week of the ambitious 45-day peace plan announced by Bhattarai within which the nearly 20,000-strong PLA should be discharged.
However, no real work has started on the crucial task that was to have been concluded within six months of the signing of the peace accord in 2006 that saw the Maoists end their decade-old insurgency.
Meanwhile, the main opposition party, the Nepali Congress, said the peace process would not progress unless the PLA was discharged.
Bhattarai and Prachanda met Nepali Congress leader Sushil Koirala Monday urging him to join the government.
But Koirala rejected the call, saying his party would not join the Maoist government till the PLA cantonments had been emptied.