New Nepal PM likely to be sworn in Sunday

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS
Friday, February 4, 2011

KATHMANDU - Nepal’s new Prime Minister-elect Jhalanath Khanal, who won a three-cornered election Thursday with the support of the opposition Maoists, is likely to be sworn in Sunday along with a mini cabinet, his communist party said.

The 61-year-old former school teacher, who becomes Nepal’s ninth prime minister in nine years, will take oath of office Sunday after Nepal’s President, Ram Baran Yadav, returns from his 10-day visit to India Saturday.

Khanal, chairman of the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist, told the media Friday that he would choose his ministers on the basis of capability and the new government would focus on concluding the peace process and enforcing a new constitution by May 28.

There was speculation that the Maoists, whose crucial support made Khanal win the election after 16 earlier rounds of fruitless voting spread over seven months, would push for major ministries, including the post of deputy prime minister.

The Kantipur daily said former Maoist information and communications minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara, who became implicated in a vote-buying scandal last year, was likely to be the deputy PM as well as foreign minister.

The daily also speculated that Maoist MP Barsha Man Pun Ananta, who is close to Maoist supremo Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda, could be named home minister.

The formation of the new government is not going to be an easy task.

Prachanda’s last-minute decision to exit from the prime ministerial race and support the communists - whom he had blamed two years ago for deserting him and causing the fall of his government - has angered many of his own party men.

Nearly 50 Maoist leaders, including Prachanda’s deputy Baburam Bhattarai and party spokesman Dinanath Sharma, opposed supporting Khanal and are likely to stay away from the new government.

The Nepali Congress, once the communists’ staunchest ally in the ruling coalition, is now its bitterest enemy.

Nepali Congress chief Sushil Koirala said his party would sit in opposition. While it was committed to the peace process and the task of drafting the new constitution, the Nepali Congress will provide only issue-based support to the new government,

Since it is the second largest party in parliament, the absence of Nepali Congress support will be a serious drawback for the new government.

The major regional parties from the Terai plains are in an upheaval. While most of them supported one of Khanal’s rivals - deputy PM Bijay Kumar Gacchedar - one faction skipped Thursday’s vote.

The absentees, Madhesi Janadhikar Forum headed by former foreign minister Upendra Yadav, may be persuaded to join Khanal’s cabinet since Gachhedar had split the party in the past to join the coalition government of Madhav Kumar Nepal.

(Sudeshna Sarkar can be contacted at

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