A day after Prime Minister Jhalanath Khanal resigned, President Dr. Ram Baran Yadav gave Nepal's political parties time till August 21 to form a national consensus government. All parties have, in principle, expressed their commitment to form a unity government, though it remains unclear how such a government would be formed and who would lead it.

Consensus was the theme of caretaker Mr. Khanal's speech in Parliament on Monday evening as well, when he said he had resigned to pave the way for a national agreement. Accusing his key coalition partner, the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), of “non cooperation”, Mr. Khanal said he had taken enormous risks inside and outside the party to create political space for the Maoists. “Despite opposition, I gave them the Home Ministry, and reshuffled their Cabinet Ministers when they demanded. But they did not co-operate.” He also blamed the Nepali Congress (NC) for not supporting the government.

Emphasising there was still “no alternative to consensus”, Mr. Khanal suggested that for this to happen, Maoists had to honestly take the peace process forward while the NC had to relinquish its claim for leadership of the government. Claiming there had been progress on the issue of integration and rehabilitation of former Maoist combatants, Mr. Khanal said parties were close to a deal on the number of combatants to be integrated and modality of integration. He cited the timely presentation of the budget, measures to ease power supply, “ending industrial insecurity”, and appointment of university Vice-Chancellors among his key achievements.

Both the NC and the Maoists have already staked their claim to lead the next government. Within the NC, the former Prime Minister, Sher Bahadur Deuba, is reported to be planning a no-confidence motion against parliamentary party leader Ram Chandra Poudel in order to be projected as the party's Prime Ministerial candidate. The Maoists have proposed Dr. Baburam Bhattarai as their candidate to head a unity government.

Some NC leaders, including party president Sushil Koirala, have in the past indicated they would be willing to accept Maoist leadership if the Maoists take the peace process to an “irreversible stage”. On Monday, a Maoist leader and Bhattarai aide, Top Bahadur Raymajhi said their party was willing to bring out an “action plan” for the “logical conclusion of the peace process”.

In case the parties fail to meet the presidential deadline, they can request Dr. Yadav to give them additional time to forge a consensus. The President could also choose to ask the parties to form a majority government through a vote in Parliament. The term of the Constituent Assembly, which also serves as the Legislature Parliament, expires on August 31.

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