Nepal Maoists progress from mines to ministries
Apr 1, 2007 - 4:45:47 PM

Kathmandu, April 1 - Eleven years after they had introduced a new phase in Nepal's history by launching an armed insurgency, the Himalayan nation's Maoist guerrillas Sunday added a new one by joining a coalition government with a pledge to build a new Nepal.

In just over a year after signing a peace agreement with the seven main political parties, the once underground Communist Party of Nepal -, banned as a terrorist organisation, has transformed itself into a parliamentary party with 83 legislators. It is now one of the top three driving forces in the new government with five key ministries.

After weeks of wrangling over ministries, the eight parties Sunday finally reached an agreement, paving the way for the new government to be sworn in.

Headed by Girija Prasad Koirala, who became prime minister for the sixth time, the new 22-member cabinet with 17 ministers and five ministers of state has only two women.

Most of the key ministries have been bagged by Koirala's Nepali Congress, the biggest party in parliament.

While the prime minister retains the defence portfolio that has traditionally been kept by all premiers, his trusted aide and former deputy prime minister Ram Chandra Poudel becomes the number two in the cabinet, given charge of the newly created peace and rehabilitation ministry.

Neither Koirala's daughter Sujata, nephew Shekhar or cousin Sushil Koirala have been nominated to the interim government.

Instead, Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat, a stern critic of the Maoists retains his department, as does Home Minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula despite a growing clamour for his ouster over the breaking down of law and order.

Former agriculture minister Mohanta Thakur now gets science and technology.

The Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist - retains foreign affairs and culture, general administration and tourism and civil aviation, besides also getting education and sports and agriculture and cooperatives.

Veteran trade union leader Sahana Pradhan of the UML gets the important foreign ministry portfolio and is expected to attend the SAARC foreign ministers' meet in New Delhi.

The formation of the interim government was delayed due to the dispute between Koirala and the UML, with the latter pressing for Pradhan to be the second senior most minister in the cabinet after Koirala.

Pradip Nepal, foreign affairs in-charge of the party, has been named education and sports minister and Chhabilal Vishwokarma agriculture minister.

Prithvi Subba Gurung is the new tourism, culture and civil aviation minister, replacing Pradip Gyawali, who was a member of the government team that held peace talks successfully with the Maoists last year.

The Maoists have bagged the plum ministry of information and communications apart from local development, physical planning and works, forest, and women, children and social welfare.

Maoist spokesman and chief of the parliamentary party Krishna Bahadur Mahara is now information and communications minister while Hisila Yami, wife of top Maoist leader Prachanda's deputy Baburam Bhattarai, has been given physical planning and infrastructure.

Khadga Bahadur Bishwakorma, coming from an underprivileged community, gets women, children and social development, Dev Gurung, a member of the Maoist peace talks team has been named local development minister while Matrika Prasad Yadav, a leader from the Terai plains, has got the forest and soil conservation portfolio.

The Maoists' triumphant entry in the government means loss of stature for former prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, deposed by King Gyanendra in 2005.

From the third largest party in parliament and government, Deuba's Nepali Congress - now has only one independent minister in the new government and two ministers of state.

Narendra Vikram Nembang retains the law, justice and parliamentary affairs ministry.

Though three of the minor partners were allocated one ministry each, People's Front, led by former deputy prime minister Amik Sherchan did not send a representative because of its anger at being given just the health ministry.

Jagat Bahadur Bogati of the United Left Front gets land reforms and Rajendra Mahato of Nepal Sadbhavana Party - industry, commerce and supplies.

A fourth ally, the Leftist Nepal Workers and Peasants Party, has repeated its earlier stance of supporting the government from outside.

The five ministers of state are Ramesh Lekhak -, Gyanendra Bahadur Karki -, Ramchandra Yadav - and Mohan Singh Rathaur - and Indra Bahadur Gurung -.

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