More than four months after the elections, Nepal finally has a new prime minister. Prachanda, the chairman of the Maoists, who until recently were waging an armed revolutionary struggle from the jungle, will now lead a mainstream coalition.
The world's first democratically-elected Maoist prime minister Prachanda
The mainstream political career of Pushpa Kamal Dahal, commonly known as Prachanda, began only two years ago. The Maoist leader, who was born on 11 December 1954 spent 23 years underground before emerging in the public eye.
However, in the past two years, the charismatic former rebel has come a long way, says Ameet Dhakal of the Kathmandu Post daily and “shown a lot of flexibility while dealing with political parties and issues.”
Prachanda was born into a poor high-caste Brahmin family. After studying agricultural studies in Chitwan District in central-south Nepal, he became politically active and joined the Communist Party of Nepal (Mashal).
In 1989, Prachanda became the general secretary. After the Communist party split in 1994, he formed his own fraction called the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist).
At the same time, the country as a whole underwent a democratic transition and emerged as a parliamentary monarchy with a king as head of state and a prime minister as head of the government.
The new system did not convince Prachanda and his fellow Maoists and in 1996, they launched an armed struggle against the government, calling it a people’s war.
The Maoist insurgency lasted for almost ten years during which at least 13,000 people lost their lives. During the whole period, Prachanda maintained a relatively low-profile image.
A major turning point in his career came in 2005, when the former king Gyanendra seized power and ousted the then government. Prachanda’s Maoists joined hands with Nepal’s mainstream political parties and launched massive protests to restore democracy. The Maoists decided to halt their armed struggle.
End of monarchy
Nepal’s king was forced to restore the parliamentary system in 2006. Soon after, the Maoists joined the interim government. But the power sharing arrangement between the parties was far from a smooth sail.
The Maoists pulled out of the government in September 2007 after its failure to accept their key demand to abolish the monarchy and declare the country a republic. They rejoined the government later that year after seeking an assurance from the government that their demand would be met.
In this year’s April elections for the Constituent Assembly, the Maoists won the highest number of seats. Shortly afterwards, the king was ousted and Nepal was declared a federal democratic republic.
Communism and economic liberalisation
Critics are concerned about the country’s future development under a party, which remains staunchly communist despite its entry into mainstream politics. However, Prachanda has tried to calm these fears and has stressed the Maoists are not against economic liberalisation.
“We want to focus our attention on economic building and without having international co-operation it is impossible to build this new Nepal. To have a new Nepal, we cannot ignore globalisation, liberalisation, and privatisation,” he said shortly after being elected.
Journalist Ameet Dhakal thinks Prachanda deserves a fair chance to prove that he means what he said: “I think Prachanda’s election as prime minister is good for the country for the reason that Maoists have emerged as the largest party and people really want to see if they have something to offer and if Prachanda can do something for the country.”
But leading Nepal will not be an easy task for Prachanda who first has to prove that the Maoists have fully abandoned violent methods and are committed to peaceful democracy despite the past.