Maoists ready to discuss alternative to Prachanda for PM post

"We are ready to discuss about the alternative to Prachanda as prime ministerial candidate from within the party, but not from outside the party," UCPN-Maoist spokesperson Dinanath Sharma told reporters. His remarks over the issue came in the wake of media reports that intra-party rift has widened in the Unified CPN-Maoist over the issue of electing a new Prime Minister.

National daily Republica claimed that serious intra-party disputes have surfaced in the UCPN-M over the leadership issue with Prachanda signalling his readiness to allow another party lead the next consensus government. Prachanda has said that he was ready to back CPN-UML president Jhalanath Khanal for Prime Minister, instead of Maoist leader Baburam Bhattarai, an idea opposed by the pro-Bhattarai faction.

"The party's decision meant proposing Bhattarai to lead the government as an alternative. But the chairman is playing a new game," a party leader was quoted as saying by the paper. The Maoists had recently launched a crippling general strike for a week to press for their demand for dissolving the present coalition led by Madhav Kumar Nepal and paving the way for a Prachanda-led government. But, it has now shown willingness to go for another leader.

The party has also initiated discussions with other political outfits for an alternative to the present government. "The government does not seem to be serious in drafting the Constitution and completing the peace process but rather it wants to stick to power for a longer period," Sharma said. He also accused Nepal Prime Minister of attempting to dissolve the Constituent Assembly, rather than forging consensus with the opposition on key issues.

"He should pave way for forming a national government by tendering his resignation," Sharma said. Maoist chief Prachanda has said his party was ready to dissolve its paramilitary outfit, the Young Communist League, within 4-5 days and manage the Maoist combatants within four months, in line with the ruling coalition's demand before negotiating for a consensus government. Sceptical of the assurance, the Nepali Congress general secretary Bimalendra Nidhi said the Maoists should put their words into actual practice first.

Sharma, however, clarified that their party had no "hidden agenda" as suspected by other political parties. He was referring to fears raised by some parties that the Maoists, with their militant workers and private army intact, might never give up power like other Communist regimes.

Sharma also accused the ruling alliance of attempting to derail the peace process under the direction of "foreign powers" and drag the country into a kind of civil war. Political observers have said that Nepal might head into a constitutional crisis if consensus eludes the ruling alliance and the main opposition on the issue of extending the deadline of the Constituent Assembly which expires on May 28. The government has few options -- either to extend the tenure of the Constituent Assembly by forging a consensus with the Maoists or to declare emergency and extend the CA's term for six months or to dissolve it and go for a fresh mandate.

Drafting a new Constitution, which requires approval of a two-third majority is not possible without the support of the Maoists who command more than one third seats in the Parliament. No serious dialogue has so far taken place between the Maoists and the ruling alliance on the issue of the term of the Constituent Assembly. The deadline to draft the new constitution expires in less than two weeks.

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