15 August 2008
Legislators in the Himalayan nation of Nepal on Friday selected, by a wide margin, a former guerilla leader to be the country's new prime minister. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman, in our South Asia bureau in New Delhi, reports on the ascent of the Maoist, known as Prachanda, who spent a quarter century in hiding and then led a ten-year civil war against Nepal's monarchy and the army.
A charismatic 53-year-old Maoist, who led the armed struggle against Nepal's government, has been selected as the new republic's first prime minister. The chairman of the special legislative assembly, Subash Nemwang, announced the results.
The chairman declares the former rebel chief, known as Prachanda, the new prime minister, receiving 464 votes. His opponent, the Nepali Congress party candidate, Sher Bahadur Deuba, received 113 votes. Deuba is a former prime minister whose rejection of the Maoist's demands in the mid-1990's led the communists to take up arms.
Prachanda, whose real name is Pushpa Kamal Dahal, will lead a Maoist-led coalition government. The Maoists scored a surprise upset victory in April's national elections. But they fell short of the majority needed in the interim parliament to elect their own leader as the head of government without allies. Another communist party (Unified Marxist Leninist) and several smaller groups allied with the Maoists in the voting Friday evening against the Nepali Congress party.
The selection by the nearly 600-member interim parliament of the new prime minister ends a four-month period of political instability under which 84-year-old Girija Prasad Koirala, who has been prime minister four times, clung to power.
Nepal became a republic at the end of May when the unpopular Hindu monarchy was abolished, bringing down the curtain on 240 years of rule under the Peacock Throne of the Shah dynasty.
The Maoists agreed to a peace deal in 2006 after then-King Gyanendra was compelled by massive public protest to end a period of authoritarian rule.
The former rebels will inherit a barely functioning government facing serious challenges. The Himalayan country is one of Asia's poorest, with surging crime and food prices, a chronic shortage of fuel and an estimated 200,000 refugees displaced by the war.
In the southern Terai plains, the ethnic Madheshi group, long excluded from the political mainstream, is agitating for autonomy. And there are concerns about the often violent wing of the Maoists, known as the Young Communist League. How they and the former guerillas, whose weapons are secured under United Nations supervision, integrate into the new democratic society, is seen as the crucial factor for Nepal achieving long-term peace and stability.