Ending two weeks of uncertainty, Baburam Bhattarai, vice chairman of Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), was on Sunday elected Nepal’s 35th prime minister.
The 57-year-old former finance minister defeated his Nepali Congress rival Ram Chandra Poudel by a margin of 105 votes. Bhattarai secured support of 340 members of the 594-member parliament.
“Even though the next government would be formed through majority but the door for consensus (to conclude the tasks of peace and constitution drafting) would remain open,” Bhattarai told parliament before the election.
With this victory, Maoists return back to power after a gap of 27 months. The previous Maoist government led by party chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda had resigned in May 2009.
Despite being the dominant partner in the previous coalition, Maoists had agreed to let Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist) chairman Jhalanath Khanal lead the government.
Bhattarai’s victory became certain prior to voting as United Democratic Madeshi Forum, the conglomeration of five Madhesi parties with 71 seats, announced its support to the Maoist leader.
Leaders of UDMF decided on extending support after Maoists agreed to a four point deal that included details on integration and rehabilitation of former Maoist combatants and making Nepal Army more inclusive.
On the other hand, Poudel failed to reach the magic figure of 298 votes despite support of CPN (UML). He had suffered 16 successive defeats in the previous PM election as well.
Bhattarai’s election follows resignation of his predecessor Jhalanath Khanal on August 15 to make way for a national consensus government. But since parties failed to arrive at consensus on government formation, the prime minister was elected through majority vote in parliament.
An alumnus of Delhi School of Planning and Architecture and Jawaharlal Nehru University, election of the farmer’s son from Gorkha to the top post is expected to speed up the stalled peace and constitution drafting processes.
Since election to the Constituent Assembly in 2008 Nepal has witnessed three governments, but the two important tasks that were to be completed within two years are nowhere near completion.
Another deadline for both tasks ends on August 31. There is a proposal to amend the interim constitution one more time and extend the Constituent Assembly’s tenure by three more months.
Bhattarai would have to bridge consensus among all parties including Nepali Congress and CPN (UML) to conclude the peace process and give the country’s its new statute within that period.
Improving his party’s equation with India which soured due to Maoist chief Prachanda’s remarks targeting the southern neighbour as Nepal’s principal enemy would be another crucial task.
Though India rebuffed Prachanda’s subsequent attempts at reconciliation, Bhattarai who has more contacts with the political leadership in New Delhi could succeed on this front.