Nepal\’s Maoist Prime Minister Prachanda resigned Monday, plunging the country into a major political crisis triggered by a stand-off between his ex-rebels and the army chief.
In a televised address to the nation, Prachanda said he was stepping down in response to an “unconstitutional and undemocratic” move by Nepal\’s president to stop the elected Maoist government from sacking the army chief.
He also warned that the impoverished nation\’s 2006 peace deal, which ended a decade of civil war that left 13,000 dead, was in danger of falling apart.
“I have resigned from the post of prime minister from today for the protection of democracy and peace,” said Prachanda, who had been premier for just eight months.
The Maoist government had on Sunday fired the army chief, General Rookmangud Katawal, for refusing to integrate 19,000 former Maoist rebel soldiers into the regular army as stipulated by the peace accord.
But President Ram Baran Yadav, a member of the main opposition party, on Monday told the head of the army — traditionally a bastion of Nepal\’s elite and the former monarchy — to stay put.
“The move by the president is an attack on this infant democracy and the peace process,” said Prachanda, a former school teacher who led the bitter insurgency before signing up for peace.
“The interim constitution does not give any right to the president to act as a parallel power,” he added, describing the crisis as centered around “the issue of civilian supremacy over the Nepal army.”
The decision by Prachanda — whose real name is Pushpa Kamal Dahal, but who goes by a nom-de-guerre meaning “fierce one” — leaves Nepal in political limbo and without an effective government.
At the same time, the Maoists\’ rivals do not have enough seats in an interim assembly to form their own cabinet, while the political process is further complicated because Nepal\’s new, post-royal constitution has yet to be written.
The Maoists\’ fighters are confined to United Nations-supervised camps but the army has refused to take in hardened guerrillas whom it views as politically indoctrinated.
The army also accuses the Maoists of not fulfilling commitments to dismantle the paramilitary structure of their feared youth wing and not returning property grabbed during the civil war.
Prachanda, however, has long argued that the dispute is merely part of a wider campaign to undermine his government, which was formed after the ex-rebels scored a surprise win in elections last year.
Since the elections, the Maoists have managed to carry through with their pledge to abolish the monarchy but complain Nepal\’s traditional elite are blocking other key reforms — such as on land ownership and the armed forces.
Centrist parties, meanwhile, appear to have sided with the army against what they allege is an attempt by the Maoists to assume dictatorial powers.
The crisis has already brought thousands of pro- and anti-Maoist demonstrators on to the streets of Kathmandu, with police maintaining a heavy presence to prevent any clashes.
For now, however, Maoist officials said they had no plan to call out their rebel fighters — who still have access to their weapons.
“The PLA is still intact, although we have no plans to bring them out from the UN-monitored camps,” former People\’s Liberation Army deputy commander Barsha Man Pun said.