KATHMANDU (AFP): Nepal’s president on Thursday gave the restive nation’s warring political factions another week to form a national unity government to take Nepal into parliamentary elections next year.
The decision came after leaders of all the main parties had failed to strike a deal on the political make-up of a proposed new cabinet, missing a 4:00 pm (1015 GMT) deadline despite a final day of frantic negotiations.
“According to the political parties’ demand for more time to choose a prime minister and form a cabinet through political consensus, the president has extended the deadline until December 6,” a statement from the office of head of state Ram Baran Yadav said.
Nepal has been run by a caretaker Maoist-led government since the collapse in May of an interim assembly that had failed in its main task of drawing up a new constitution following a 10-year civil war that ended in 2006.
The Maoists held a string of meetings in Kathmandu with the main opposition powerbrokers in a last-ditch attempt to break the political deadlock but were unable to announce a deal as the deadline expired.
The impoverished Himalayan nation, tucked between giant China and India, has been plagued by instability since the Maoist insurgency ended and the monarchy was abolished in 2008.
The introduction of a republican constitution was a key condition of a 2006 peace deal that ended the conflict in which more than 16,000 were killed.
The president, whose role as head of state is normally ceremonial, had set the afternoon deadline for agreement on the make-up of a unity government to take Nepal into polls for a new parliament set for April or May next year.
But there was no agreement and the main party leaders met Yadav at his official Kathmandu residence and persuaded the president to grant a new December 6 deadline for hammering out a deal.
There was some confusion in the immediate aftermath of the meeting, with the opposition Unified Marxist Leninists (UML) wrongly announcing December 5 as the date.
Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai hopes to name a cabinet that includes members of his Maoist party and others from the opposition Nepali Congress (NC) and UML as well as smaller regional groups.
Talks have been stalled over who should lead the new administration, with the opposition blocs publicly rejecting the idea of a Bhattarai-led national unity government and the premier refusing to step aside.
“The prime minister won’t resign unless there’s an agreement on the core issues of the constitution,” Maoist spokesman Agni Sapkota told AFP.
The NC said it would push for its own candidate, the centrist party president Sushil Koirala, to take over the premiership.
“Elections are the first priority. But to hold elections in a free and fair manner we need to form a national unity government,” said Arjun Narsingh KC, a senior leader in the party.
“We have done some homework on forming our government. We have also engaged in talks with the other parties. But so far, the prospects don’t seem that positive.”
The Maoists have offered the NC and UML a pick of top cabinet posts to bring them on board but analysts expect little compromise.
“The most likely scenario is that Bhattarai will continue to be prime minister while trying to transform this administration into a cross-party one,” political commentator Raja Ram Gautam told AFP.
Another option for the president if the new deadline is also breached would be to dismiss the Maoist caretaker administration and take over the role of ruling Nepal himself up to the elections — although this is seen by all sides as an unwelcome last resort.
“The battle is now centered on the prime minister. So it’s all about who will be in the hot seat. The Nepali Congress has begun to hold talks with other parties to garner their support,” said political analyst Bhadra Sharma.
“But the Maoists are adamant on their position which is they want to hold on to power. It depends on how long the president can tolerate this stalemate.”
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