Despite opposition from within his party, Nepal’s Prime Minister Jhalanath Khanal reshuffled his cabinet, appointing new Maoist ministers late on Monday. He also declared that if there was no progress in the peace process by August 13, he would step down from office.
As a part of their internal power-sharing deal, the Maoists had decided to send new ministers to the government last week. The main opposition, Nepali Congress, however had warned the Prime Minister not to swear in the new ministers. Instead, it asked for his resignation as per the five point agreement signed between the major parties when the Constituent Assembly was extended in May. The standing committee of the Mr. Khanal’s party, Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist) too decided to oppose the cabinet reshuffle and instructed him not to accept the Maoist demand. Mr. Khanal, however, argued that appointing ministers was his prerogative.
Soon after swearing-in the new ministers, Mr. Khanal told reporters that if there was no progress on the management of Maoist combatants in the ‘next 12 days’, he would resign. “It will be my political and moral duty to step down if we fail to conclude the major tasks of the peace process by August 13.”
A PMO source told The Hindu that the Maoists had assured the Prime Minister that they would actively participate in the meetings of the Special Committee for Supervision, Integration and Rehabilitation of the Maoist combatants to find an agreement on contentious issues. The number of combatants to be integrated, the modality of integration, rank harmonization, norms of entry, and nature of rehabilitation packages remain unresolved. The Maoists have said they are willing to ‘regroup the combatants’ based on those to be integrated and those opting for rehabilitation by the end of August.
On Tuesday, the Mr. Khanal’s decision to reshuffle the cabinet provoked widespread opposition. The Nepali Congless obstructed parliamentary proceedings, and reiterated the demand for his ‘immediate resignation’. Senior UML leader K.P. Oli accused Mr. Khanal of ‘betraying the party’. United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF), comprising five Tarai based parties, also opposed the reshuffle.