Communist rift plunges Nepal's ruling coalition into crisis

Nepal's Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal addresses parliament
Nepal's Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, also known as Prachanda, delivers a speech before a confidence vote at the parliament in Kathmandu, Nepal January 10, 2023. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar/File Photo

KATHMANDU, Feb 27 (Reuters) - Splits within Nepal's communist-dominated ruling coalition plunged the Himalayan nation into crisis on Monday as a Marxist-Leninist party said it would withdraw support after the Maoist prime minister backed an opposition candidate for the presidency.

Nepal has had 11 governments since it abolished its 239-year-old monarchy in 2008 and became a republic. It is due to appoint its next president on March 9.

Current prime minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, a former Maoist guerrilla leader in the mountainous nation sandwiched between China and India, has held the post three times.

Elected in December, the prime minister - who still goes by his nom de guerre Prachanda - formed a seven-party coalition comprised of his own Maoist Centre party, the Communist Unified Marxist-Leninist (UML) party and five other smaller groups.

Last week, Prachanda infuriated the UML by pledging support for the opposition Nepali Congress party's presidential candidate, Ram Chandra Paudel.

Prachanda had earlier agreed to support a UML candidate for the presidency, according to politicians in the coalition.

Members of both houses of parliament and members of seven provincial assemblies will cast their votes on March 9 to elect the president - a largely ceremonial position, though it can play a key role during political crises.

Senior UML figure Bishnu Paudel, who serves as deputy prime minister in charge of finance, said he and all eight ministers of his party had submitted resignation letters to the prime minister as Prachanda failed to "honour the consensus" that was reached when forming the government.

"We'll also withdraw support to the coalition government," Paudel told Reuters after a party meeting.

Foreign affairs minister Bimala Rai Paudyal, who was asked on Sunday by Prachanda not to travel to Geneva to participate in the United Nations' human rights panel meeting, was also among those who quit.

Four ministers, including a deputy prime minister from another party, also quit the government over the weekend due to the same issue.

Political analysts said Prachanda, whose party controls 32 seats in the 275-member parliament, must face a confidence vote within 30 days.

He is likely to win that vote with support from Congress - the largest single party in parliament - and form a new coalition that includes Congress and other smaller groups.

Prachanda has worked with Congress before, and political analysts say the Maoist leader is more comfortable with Congress than with the Marxist-Leninists.

Reporting by Gopal Sharma; editing by Sudipto Ganguly, Simon Cameron-Moore and Hugh Lawson

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