Nepal’s firebrand Maoist poised to return as prime minister after being nominated unopposed

Dahal faces the twin challenges of rebuilding the country after a devastating earthquake and resolving simmering unrest over a divisive new constitution

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 August, 2016, 12:18am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 October, 2017, 1:21pm

The leader of Nepal’s Maoist party appeared certain to be the next prime minister after the deadline for nominations expired on Tuesday with only his name on the ballot.

Lawmakers in the Himalayan nation are due to elect a new prime minister on Wednesday after K.P. Sharma Oli resigned last week, minutes before facing a no-confidence motion in parliament.

“We have only received the nomination of Pushpa Kamal Dahal for the prime minister’s post,” deputy parliament spokesman Sudarshan Kuinkel said, referring to the Maoist party leader.

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Dahal, better known by his nom de guerre Prachanda or “the fierce one”, led a decade-long Maoist insurgency before transforming the rebel movement into a political party after a 2006 peace deal.

He has served as prime minister once before, after the Maoists won elections in 2009, but only lasted nine months in office before resigning.

The party lost ground in the last elections in 2013 and is now only the third-biggest force in parliament.

But neither of the two larger parties have enough seats to govern alone. Dahal secured the backing of the largest party, the Nepali Congress, after pulling out of Oli’s coalition three weeks ago.

If elected, Dahal faces the twin challenges of rebuilding the country after a devastating earthquake and resolving simmering unrest over a divisive new constitution adopted last September.

Oli faced fierce criticism over his handling of protests against the charter, which triggered a months-long border blockade by demonstrators from the Madhesi ethnic minority.

More than 50 people died in clashes between police and protesters, who say the constitution has left them marginalised.

The new charter, the first drawn up by elected representatives, was meant to bolster Nepal’s transformation to a democratic republic after decades of political instability.

But continuing discussions between the government and protesters over the constitution – particularly over the rights of marginalised communities – have failed to yield agreement.

Dahal became prime minister after turning his rebel movement into a political party and winning elections in 2008, and oversaw the abolition of a centuries-old feudal monarchy – one of the key aims of the revolution.

But he resigned just nine months later after the president blocked his government’s efforts to sack the head of the army in a row over the integration of former Maoist fighters.

“Last time, I was inexperienced in the ways of competitive democracy. We still had a war mindset from the insurgency years,” he told the Hindustan Times in a recent interview.

“Now, after 10 years in open politics, I have learnt the rules of competitive democracy.”

The Maoists are only the third largest party in parliament, with 80 out of 575 seats, having lost ground in the last election.

Many blamed Prachanda, saying he had alienated supporters with his extravagant lifestyle, including a sprawling bungalow in the heart of Kathmandu and a reported fondness for expensive imported whisky.

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“His agenda was very combative ... He alienated and antagonised very important institutions,” said Aditya Adhikari, author and expert on the Maoist movement.

Experts say Prachanda has displayed greater willingness to compromise in recent years, joining hands with more conservative forces, including a royalist party, to secure political power.

He leveraged the third-largest party’s role as kingmaker to secure a comeback as prime minister, backing the Nepali Congress to form the next government.