- The Washington Times - Friday, May 29, 2009

KATMANDU, Nepal — Parliament’s election of Madhav Kumar Nepal as the fledgling republic’s second prime minister opens a new chapter in a tortuous peace process that ended a 10-year Maoist insurgency.

Mr. Nepal will have a tough job holding together what is perhaps the largest group of political forces ever to form a government in his country. His ruling coalition consists of 22 of the Himalayan nation’s 24 political parties but excludes the largest single party in parliament, the Maoists.

Mr. Nepal of the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist and Leninist (CPN-UML) took the oath of office from President Ram Baran Yadav on Monday, three weeks after the republic’s first prime minister, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, resigned to protest the reinstatement of a top general who had been fired for insubordination to civilian authority.

Mr. Dahal, also known by the nom de guerre Prachanda, ended the insurgency by joining peace negotiations in 2006. He came to power in elections two years later and the parliament abolished the nation’s monarchy.

As leader of the rival Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M), Mr. Dahal will lead the opposition against the new government.

Mr. Nepal said he is confident that the Maoists will help move the peace process forward.

“They are sending the message that they will play a constructive role. They will not detour from the path of constitution writing, the peace process and the advancement of the society. If they are really committed for these three missions, then there is the scope of working together,” Mr. Nepal said.

However, the Maoists boycotted Saturday’s election in which parliament chose Mr. Nepal as prime minister and have since threatened to unilaterally establish local governments on their own.

On the day Mr. Nepal took the oath of office, Baburam Bhattarai, a senior leader of the Maoist group, warned that his organization could “easily seize the state power by mobilizing a large number of people.”

Chitra Tiwari, a U.S.-based academic who has interviewed Mr. Dahal and written for The Washington Times, said he fears the change in government may ruin the peace process.

“The whole game appears fishy. In a parliamentary system, when the prime minister resigns, it is the responsibility of the second largest party to take the initiative to form the government. That did not happen,” Mr. Tiwari said.

The Maoists are the largest party in parliament. The No. 2 party, the anti-Maoist Nepali Congress, had asked the Marxist-Leninist group to form a government.

Mr. Tiwari said he fears the political maneuvering is part of a larger effort to divide the two communist parties, which together could command nearly two-thirds of the seats in parliament.

Mr. Nepal, 56, is known as strong negotiator who seeks consensus and will have to rely on those skills to keep the Maoists within the peace process.

His coalition controls 358 seats the 601-seat parliament.

The English-language daily Kathmandu Post said earlier this week that Mr. Nepal is of “moderate temperament,” which “raises hopes that he is, after all, equipped for the task assigned.”

After taking the oath, Mr. Nepal outlined two responsibilities that his government must focus on - drafting a new constitution and taking the peace process to its logical conclusion.

The parliament, formally know as the Constituent Assembly, is responsible for writing a new constitution within the next year.

The peace process calls for the People’s Liberation Army of the Maoists and Nepal’s national army to be merged into a single national army.

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