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In riveting political drama in Nepal, Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ named Prime Minister

Updated - December 26, 2022 08:42 am IST

Published - December 25, 2022 05:49 pm IST - Kathmandu

Seven parties and three independent MPs led by former Prime Minister Sharma Oli come together in a dramatic move for a post-poll alliance

Nepal’s former guerrilla leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal, better known by his nom de guerre Prachanda waves next to Communist Party Nepal-Union Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) chairman K.P. Sharma Oli in Bhaktapur on the outskirts of Kathmandu on December 25, 2022 before leaving for the President’s office to claim majority for his appointment as the new Prime Minister. | Photo Credit: AFP

Nepal President Bidhya Devi Bhandari on Sunday appointed Pushpa Kamal Dahal, leader of the parliamentary party of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre), Prime Minister of the Himalayan nation.

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A communication from the President’s Office in Sital Nivas said Mr. Dahal, better known as ‘Prachanda’, would be sworn in as Prime Minister at 4 p.m. on Monday.

Seven parties and three Independent MPs led by former Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli of the Communist Party of Nepal (UML) came together in a dramatic move for a post-poll alliance on Sunday and wrote to the President proposing the name of Mr. Dahal as the prime ministerial candidate of the Left-dominant coalition. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has congratulated Mr. Dahal. Mr. Dahal and his CPN (Maoist Centre) have the support of 169 elected members in the Pratinidhi Sabha, the Lower House, representing the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist), the Rashtriya Swatantra Party (RSP), led by Ravi Lamichhane, the pro-monarchy Rashtriya Prajatantra Party, the Nagarik Unmukti Party, the Janata Samajwadi Party of Madhesi leader Upendra Yadav and the Janamat Party of former secessionist leader C.K. Raut.

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‘Unique relationship’

Congratulating Mr. Dahal, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “The unique relationship between India and Nepal is based on deep cultural connect and warm people-to-people ties. I look forward to working together with you to further strengthen this friendship.”

Officials, however, said New Delhi would watch the development closely, given that the RSP, one of the key constituents of the Leftist coalition, has criticised India for building an embankment along the Mahakali river at Dharchula, that has led to protests by Nepalese on the other side.

This will be the third time that the former Maoist rebel leader will be the Prime Minister of the Himalayan nation. He served in 2008-09 when he had to step down because of a political crisis over sharing of power. His second stint came in 2016 when he took over from Mr. Oli against the backdrop of an economic blockade of Nepal during 2015-16 by the Madhesi agitators.

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Among the surprises on Sunday was the decision by the newly formed RSP led by former TV anchor Mr. Lamicchane, whose campaign pitch for a “clean, anti-establishment” party had led some to assume that the party would remain in the opposition for now.

“The RSP got the votes by promising to get things done: improving rule of law, reducing corruption, improving government services, providing access to high quality healthcare and education for all, creating jobs, etc.,” RSP Central Committee member Arnico Panday told The Hindu, when asked about the turnaround. “We cannot achieve those by sitting in the Opposition. We have been talking to all parties to find the best way to move forward on our agenda. The new coalition provided us with the best opportunity”

The RSP, that has 20 seats combined from the general election and the proportional representation (PR) categories, is now the fourth largest party in the 275-member Pratinidhi Sabha, and will tip the balance in favour of the Prachanda-led coalition.

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Earlier, Mr. Dahal had broken away from the Nepali Congress-led ruling coalition which had governed Nepal since its leader Sher Bahadur Deuba was appointed Prime Minister in a Supreme Court-initiated move in July 2021.

New players

Sunday’s developments have put an end to weeks of negotiations that began after the general election of November failed to produce a clear winner though the Nepali Congress emerged as the single largest party. The election, however, was difficult as several ministers in the Deuba Cabinet lost their seats and a number of smaller parties such as the RSP and Nagarik Unmukti Party emerged as new political players. It was understood that the smaller parties would play a crucial role in helping either of the two big blocs led by Mr. Deuba and Mr. Oli form the next government.

In the last few days, a crisis emerged in the Nepali Congress which witnessed rise of a new centre of power with party leader Gagan Thapa asserting his role. Mr. Oli’s coalition had given the impression that it had fallen apart but surprised the political landscape by emerging with a new coalition with Mr. Dahal as the prime ministerial candidate.

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