Nepal govt on shaky wicket as Maoists and NC pile pressure

Kathmandu: Nepal`s Jhalanath Khanal-led government appeared to be tottering, hardpressed between the Maoists` arm twisting over their ultimatum for a cabinet reshuffle and the opposition Nepali Congress` demand to step down to pave way for a consensus government.

While the Maoists are demanding that a new cabinet be sworn in to induct a fresh team of ministers from the Maoist ranks, the main opposition party Nepali Congress, strictly opposed to a reshuffle, is obstructing the parliament to press for the implementation of a five-point agreement.

Moreover, some members of Prime Minister Khanal`s own party are clearly against meeting the demand of the coalition partner UCPN-Maoist, which wants its team in the cabinet to be revised.

The Prachanda-led party had yesterday set a 24-hour deadline before Khanal to reshuffle his cabinet. The deadline was today extended by another day, with the party indicating it might consider withdrawing support if the demand is not met.

"We will wait till Monday morning for the Prime Minister to reshuffle the cabinet," Maoist spokesman Dinanath Sharma told PTI.

He said the party would make another decision if the Prime Minister does not act as per their advice.

Maoist chief Prachanda on Friday handed over a list of two dozen ministers to be inducted in the cabinet under the leadership of party Vice President Narayan Kaji Shrestha to replace the incumbent Maoist ministers in the government.

At present the Maoists` team in the cabinet is led by Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara. But in the face of a growing struggle within the party, Maoist chief Prachanda has asked Khanal to reshuffle the cabinet and induct fresh Maoist faces.

However, in the face of opposition from within his own party`s ranks, including former PM Madhav Kumar Nepal and former Home Minister Bhim Rawal, the Prime Minister is hesitant in going for a reshuffle.

The Nepali Congress, meanwhile, continued to pile pressure on the government by obstructing the parliament for a fifth day.

The main opposition party is asking the Prime Minister to implement the five-point agreement reached among the three major political parties, which includes concluding the peace process, expediting constitution writing process, integration of the Maoists` combatants and resignation by the Prime Minister to pave way for a national consensus government.

Khanal today separately held discussions with Maoist chief Prachanda and Nepali Congress president Sushil Koirala.

During his talks with the Nepali Congress the Prime Minister said that the government accords top priority to drafting the constitution and concluding the peace process, Nepali Congress parliamentary party leader Ram Chandra Poudyal told PTI.

The Prime Minister has assured that he would ask the Maoists to help in moving forward the peace process, Poudyal said.

Koirala, on his part, told the Prime Minister that Nepali Congress was not in a hurry to attain power as the party`s priority was concluding the peace process and writing the constitution, according to Poudyal.

The NC also asked the Prime Minister to implement the five-point agreement signed two months ago.

During his meeting with Prachanda, the Prime Minister discussed various issues including the peace process, the cabinet reshuffle and the pressure being exerted by the opposition upon him to quit power.