Nepal Picks Koirala as New PM, but Challenges Remain - The New Indian Express

Nepal Picks Koirala as New PM, but Challenges Remain

Published: 10th February 2014 05:19 PM

Last Updated: 10th February 2014 05:19 PM

Nepal's parliament picked a social democrat as its new prime minister on Monday after a last-minute power-sharing deal ended a deadlock that had lasted since an election two months ago.

Sushil Koirala, the head of the centrist Nepali Congress party, was elected with support from the communist UML party, which holds the second largest number of seats in parliament.

Nepal, wedged between India and China, has been plagued by conflict, instability and intractable political division for years. It been running under an interim constitution since the 2008 abolition of a centuries-old monarchy.

Both of its giant neighbours are trying to woo the desperately poor country as a geo-political ally, fearing prolonged turmoil could turn it into a haven for international criminal gangs, militants and traffickers.

Koirala, 76, is the fourth member of his family to be become prime minister. He needed to be elected by a majority in parliament and his Nepali Congress party controls 194 seats in the 601-seat assembly. He won the support of 405 lawmakers.

The UML is made up of communists with more liberal political views compared with the Maoist former rebels who waged a civil war in the Himalayan nation until 2006.

UML leaders were initially reluctant to support Koirala but compromised after he agreed to a presidential election next year.

Koirala replaces Khil Raj Regmi, the Supreme Court chief justice who has headed a caretaker government since March last year. He now has the job of overseeing the preparation of a new constitution, one of the conditions of a 2006 peace deal that ended the decade-long war.

Clean Politician

The charter has remained elusive because of differences about the political course the nascent republic should adopt. A previous attempt to write it failed after the term of a constituent assembly expired in 2012.

The soft-spoken Koirala, three of whose cousins have served as prime minister, is always seen wearing a black Nepali cap and sports a silver beard. He lacks experience in public administration and never held a government position when his party was in power for most of the past 23 years.

But he is known as a clean politician and spent six years in jails in Nepal and India during the country's fight for democracy since the 1950s.

"The new constitution is possible only with the consensus and unity among all political parties. My government will strive for that," Koirala told the parliament.

The Maoist former rebels, who dominated governments since joining the mainstream, suffered a stunning defeat in the polls.

They were offered a berth in the new cabinet but refused to participate, Koirala's aides said.

The Maoists fear that the two big parties could gang up against them to water down their vision of a federal and secular republic. Analysts say Koirala's challenge is to win their confidence in making the charter.

Shifting political winds have increased the economic woes of Nepal's 27 million people, one quarter of whom live on a daily income of less than $2. The crisis has stunted efforts to create jobs, forcing thousands of young people to seek work abroad.

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