Nepal gets new Communist prime minister after landmark polls
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KATHMANDU, Feb 15 — The leader of Nepal’s largest Communist party was named prime minister today, two months after leading his party to a thumping victory in landmark elections billed as a turning point for the impoverished Himalayan nation.
K.P. Sharma Oli will head the first government elected under a new national constitution that cements Nepal’s transformation from Hindu monarchy to a federal republic 11 years after the end of a brutal Maoist insurgency.
The Communist leader is expected to take the oath of office later today, presidential secretary Bhesh Raj Adhikari told AFP.
An alliance of Oli’s main Communist party and the former Maoist rebels trounced Deuba’s Nepali Congress party in last year’s polls, the first under the country’s new post-war constitution.
The charter sets out a sweeping overhaul of the political system, devolving significant power from the centre to the seven provinces.
But the handover of power was delayed by disagreements over how the new election rules in the constitution should be implemented.
The long delay has dampened the optimism that accompanied the polls, when many voters cast their ballots hoping a new government would bring much-needed stability and development.
Nepal has cycled through 11 prime ministers since the civil war ended in 2006, allowing corruption to flourish and growth stagnate.
Sher Bahadur Deuba, who resigned as prime minister earlier today, spent just eight months in office.
Rules under the new constitution make it harder to oust the premier, raising hopes that the next government could last a full five year term.
During Oli’s last term in office in 2015, relations between Kathmandu and its traditional ally Delhi soured after protests over the constitution led to a blockade of the Nepal-India border.
The blockade caused a crippling shortage of goods in the landlocked Himalayan nation as it was still reeling from a devastating earthquake that hit earlier that year killing nearly 9,000 people.
Oli blamed the blockade on Delhi and tilted Nepal’s diplomatic relations towards China, stoking nationalistic sentiment.
Beijing responded by pumping vast sums of money into Nepal in the form of large-scale infrastructure projects.
Analysts say Oli will likely take a more pragmatic approach to balancing relations with Nepal’s two giant neighbours this time around.
“He used the nationalistic platform for elections. Now he doesn’t need to bait India to get support,” said Kunda Dixit, editor of the Nepali Times newspaper.
Both Oli and New Delhi appear keen to rebalance relations between the neighbours.
India’s foreign minister Sushma Swaraj was recently in Kathmandu for meetings with the government-in-waiting and there has been talk of a visit to Nepal by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Where Oli makes his first overseas visit will be closely watched.
He is expected to continue to court Beijing, with an eye on investment for a long-mooted Himalayan rail link and energy-staved Nepal’s hydropower system.
The 65-year-old’s health is a cause of concern within political circles. He had a kidney transplant about 10 years ago and regularly flies to Bangkok for health checkups.
Some say he downplays the severity of his health problems. — AFP