KATMANDU (AP) ― Nepal’s parliament elected the deputy leader of the former Maoist rebels as the new prime minister on Sunday, halting the Himalayan nation’s latest political crisis.
Baburam Bhattarai of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) received 340 votes in the 601-seat parliament with the backing of several smaller parties. That was more than the simple majority needed to be elected.
Baburam Bhattarai. (AP-Yonhap News)
Bhattarai’s only opponent, Ram Chandra Poudel of the Nepali Congress party, received 235 votes.
The political crisis was triggered by former Prime Minister Jhalnath Khanal’s resignation on Aug. 14 after he failed to make process in drafting a long-delayed constitution. It had taken Khanal 17 rounds of votes in parliament over seven months to be elected in February, while Bhattarai was selected in the first attempt.
Bhattarai, 57, is the second-highest leader of the Maoist group which fought government troops until 2006 demanding political reforms and an end to the centuries-old monarchy.
Bhattarai remained in hiding during the 10 years of fighting. The bloody revolt began in mountain villages in western Nepal in 1996 but spread to most of the country by the time the rebels gave up their revolt and joined a peace process under United Nations supervision.
Bhattarai, who has a doctorate from Jawaharlal Nehru University in India, is believed to be the chief planner of the Maoists’ strategy, both during the years of fighting and in peace time.
The Maoists were able to win the largest number of the seats in 2008 parliamentary elections and now are the largest political party in the country.
Bhattarai must now form a coalition government including members of the smaller parties that supported him in Sunday’s vote. The two other major parties, Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist Leninist), have opted to stay out of the Maoist-led government.
Bhattarai’s major challenge will be to complete the peace process that began with the Maoists giving up their armed revolt. Thousands of former Maoist fighters are still confined to camps and are waiting for their future to be decided. There is disagreement among the major political parties on whether they should be integrated into the national army.
The country’s constitution also needs to be written. The Constituent Assembly elected in 2008 had two years to finish the job. That has been extended twice, and the latest deadline is Aug. 31, which is likely to be extended again.