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South Asia Peace Initiative

Maoist Leader Named Prime Minister of Nepal

Kathmandu, Nepal — Parliamentarians elected Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal, better known as Prachanda, the first prime minister of the republic of Nepal Friday in Kathmandu. The move ended four months of negotiations over forming a government.

After an unexpected victory in April elections – where the Maoists won the most seats, but not an absolute majority, in the Constituent Assembly – a coalition of three major parties finally forged an alliance that brought the former Maoist rebel to the height of political power.

Between them, the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists, the Communist Party of Nepal-United Marxist Leninists and the Madeshi People's Rights Forum had a total of 387 seats. Only 298 votes were needed to elect the prime minister. The 54-year-old former rebel leader won 464 votes.

Girija Prasad Koirala, 83, who became prime minister in April 2006 after the fall of King Gyanendra's regime, remains the leader of the Nepali Congress party and now the main opposition leader. His party’s candidate for prime minister, Sher Gahadur Deuba, received only 113 votes.

Media reports indicate that the Maoists will take nine ministerial portfolios, including the coveted Defense Ministry. The CPN-UML will have six ministries and the MPRF four.

Over the past few days, the CPN-Maoist and the Nepali Congress have been battling over the much-sought-after Defense Ministry. But the coalition of three parties won, centering on the Maoist party.

Prachanda was commander of the People’s Liberation Army, which fought a guerrilla war with the Nepalese army for over a decade. Now he will be in charge of both armies, and the integration of the two former enemies promises to be a tricky task.

Despite his communist background, Prachanda has indicated he will seek a pragmatic rather than an ideological path for Nepal, recognizing that free markets and foreign investment will be necessary to the country’s development.

He has promised to introduce land reforms to help raise out of poverty the 80 percent of the country’s population that relies on farming. Prachanda studied agricultural science, and taught the subject for a period before devoting himself to revolution.

He is considered a strong and charismatic leader. Hundreds of his supporters danced and cheered outside the assembly when news of his election reached them.

Politicians of all persuasions addressed the gathering of nearly 600 parliamentarians ahead of the vote, reminding the Nepalese of the meaning of this historic day and the significance of the emergence of a "new Nepal."

Hon. Ek Nath Dhakal, the leader of the Nepal Family Party, reminded his fellow parliamentarians of the martyrs and political leaders who made great sacrifices to bring about this historic day.

Speaking from the dais, he exhorted the lawmakers, whose responsibility it is to draft a new Constitution, that the Constitution must preserve the "God-given rights" of all Nepalese citizens, not favor the interests of some over others. He was the only parliamentarian to invoke divine protection for this former Hindu kingdom as it embarked on the perilous journey of uniting former royalists, rebels and democrats in the challenging task of nation-building.

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