Baburam Bhattarai of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) has been elected by the parliament in Kathmandu, averting a political crisis threatening the fragile peace process in the nascent Himalayan republic.
Newly elected Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai is congratulated after his swearing-in ceremony
57-year-old Bhattarai received 340 votes in the 601-seat parliament through the backing of the Madhes-based parties, the fourth largest bloc in parliament, as well as of a number of smaller parties. His sole opponent, Ram Chandra Poudel of the Nepali Congress Party, received 235 votes, and has opted, along with the other major party, the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist Leninist), to stay out of the government. Bhattarai will thus have to form his coalition government with the help of the smaller parties.
His first task will be to complete the peace process which began in 2006 when the Maoists gave up their armed revolt. Bhattarai remained in hiding during the ten years of fighting prior to that. Now, his first challenge will be to reintegrate more than 19,000 former guerillas. As Reuters reports, Bhattarai said after his election: "Completing the peace process and preparing the new constitution are my priorities. Number three is providing relief to the people."
A price on his head
Bhattarai after peace talks with the government in 2003 during his rebel days
A doctorate degree holder from Jawaharlal Nehru University in India, Bhattarai had a price of 70,000 US dollars on his head during the armed conflict, which started in 1996. When the Maoists were swept into power in a surprise victory in the 2008 election, Bhattarai occupied the post of finance minister in the short-lived coalition. Now he is considered second in line to party chief Prachanda. Whether this will enable him to cut Nepal's own Gordian knot - how to reduce two standing armies into one - remains to be seen.
His predecessor, former Prime Minister Jhalnath Khanal resigned on August 14 over his failure to ensure progress in drafting the country’s new constitution. It had taken Khanal 17 rounds of voting in parliament in February to be elected prime minister, whereas Bhattarai has achieved the same objective in one. But he already has a deadline hanging over his head: the Constituent Assembly, elected in 2008, had two years to finish the job of drafting the new constitution. The deadline has already been extended twice. The latest ends on August 31.
Author: Arun Chowdhury (AP, dpa, Reuters)
Editor: Sarah Berning