MonitorsPublished on May 19, 2008
Ending the month-long political stalemate and uncertainty, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala invited the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist Chairman Prachanda, also the leader of the single largest party in the Constituent Assembly (CA), to form a new government.
South Asia South Asia Weekly 20

< class="maroontitle">Koirala lets Maoists form government

Ending the month-long political stalemate and uncertainty, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala invited the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist Chairman Prachanda, also the leader of the single largest party in the Constituent Assembly (CA), to form a new government. But Koirala urged the Maoist chief to form the new government in accordance with the Interim Constitution. The Maoists applauded Koirala’s step and welcomed his move for creating a favourable political atmosphere.

Apparently, the three main parties- Maoists, Nepali Congress (NC) and CPN-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML)—evolved political consensus and found a way out of a problem which has been dogging the formation of the new government. However, issues like amendment to the Interim Constitution, nomination of 26 CA members and appointment of ‘ceremonial President’ remain a matter of serious concern. Senior NC, UML and Madhesi Janaandhikar Forum (MJF) leaders had earlier agreed for a common stand on future power sharing but came out with pre-conditions at the negotiating table. The amendment proposal, which allows the removal of a government through a simple majority in the CA, is being strongly opposed by the Maoists. Eventually, even if they agree to the amendment, it is unlikely that they would give up both the posts of PM and President to other parties.

< class="maroontitle">JI chief’s arrest leads to uncertainty

The politics in Bangladesh took a new turn this week with the arrest of Matiur Rahman Nizami, the chief of country’s influential Islamic political party Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh (JI Bd). Nizami was arrested on May 19 on charges of corruption in the Gatco case. Nizami is among the 22 persons including detained former premier Khaleda Zia, and her younger son Arafat Rahman Koko facing charges of corruption for illegally awarding container-handling job at two container depots in Dhaka and Chittagong to a company called Gatco. This arrest has immense political implications. An antagonized JI might review its policy to avoid any direct confrontation with the government. Reacting strongly against the arrest, Jamaat General Secretary Ali Ahsan Mohamaad Mujaheed said the arrest would work against the holding of free and fair polls. Cautioning government of the implications, Jamaat demanded a quick release of its chief as Nizami’s presence was essential for the success of dialogue between political parties and the government. This condition has deepened the crisis. Awami League (AL) and Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), the two major political parties of the country, had already declared their decision of not participating in the dialogue with the government without the release of their detained chiefs Shiekh Hasina and Begum Khaleda Zia respectively. If JI were to opt out of the dialogue, it would be the third major party to do so, leaving the future of the dialogue process in doubt.

Meanwhile, external pressure is mounting on the government to hold early elections. The US said since the present government had no popular mandate, it should not stay longer as such practices left a negative impact on the government.  The US believes that if the elections were not held in time, the political situation would only deteriorate further in Bangladesh.

Sri Lanka
< class="maroontitle">New CM for East

President Rajapaksa has appointed a former rebel leader Pillaiyan as the new Chief Minister of the Eastern Provincial Council. Though another chief ministerial candidate Hizbullah along with his supporters had opposed Pillaiyan, he subsequently agreed to accept the portfolio of the Health Minister. Their so-called cooperation, however, failed to stop the post-poll violence between Tamils and Muslims in the province.

In the north, LTTE suffered a blow with the sudden death of one of their most seasoned commander Col. Balraj at the battlefront due to a heart attack. The loss was crippling as it came at a time when the group was short of experienced commanders.

< class="maroontitle">Who rules in Islamabad?

Hundred days after the people of Pakistan decided to sideline President Pervez Musharraf and opt for a civilian government in Islamabad, it is the former Army Chief who seems to be sitting pretty. The February 18 elections were a clear denouement of the Musharraf regime and by all means, he should have moved out of the scene quietly. Instead, he chose to remain ensconced in the presidential chair. The Murree declaration which set the tone and tenor of a coalition between traditional rivals, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-N (PMLN), was indeed historical. It offered a new ray of hope for the people suffering a ceaseless hide-and-seek game played by the political parties and the Army. As irony would have it, it is the Murree declaration which is threatening to undo this new experiment in politics. The bone of contention is the restoration of the sacked judges, including Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary. With PPP refusing to go along with PMLN, the latter decided to part ways and withdrew its ministers from the Cabinet but chose not to pull down the government. For Nawaz Sharif, it is a strategic move at a critical juncture in Pakistan’s history. Sharif hopes to cash in on the rising levels of suspicion among the people over Zardari’s intentions, particularly his possible alliance with Musharraf to forge a new coalition, and the growing frustration over rising prices and food and power shortage. Musharraf, on his part, is desperately trying to patch together a new PML-Q, minus its president Shujaat Hussain, to shore up the Zardari-Gillani government.

< class="maroontitle">Opposition undone

The five-party Opposition alliance, set up last year, has formally collapsed. The National Unity Alliance of the opposition groups has jointly agreed that following a failure to agree on a mechanism, it would not nominate a single presidential candidate to represent all five member organizations. A possible delay in implementing the Constitution came when Maldivian Attorney General Azima Shukoor fixed its date in June as against the May deadline proposed by its Information Minister Mohammed Nasheed. With presidential elections set to take place in August, the prospects of having independent commissions in place before the elections also appear to be a far cry. In the meantime, US warned Maldives against excluding non-Muslims from the Maldivian citizenship as per the provisions of the new Constitution as it might run contrary to its obligations to the various international covenants of which Maldives is a signatory.     

< class="maroontitle">Contributors:

      • Anjali Sharma                 –   Sri Lanka, Maldives
      • Joyeeta Bhattacharjee –   Bangladesh
      • Paul Soren                       –   Nepal, Bhutan
      • Wilson John                    –   Pakistan

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