Election of popular Maoist leader as PM raises hopes in Nepal
The election of Maoist Baburam Bhattarai as prime minister has Nepal cautiously optimistic that the country may have found a leader who can end more than two years of political deadlock.
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Bhattarai says he hopes to complete the peace process by settling the future of more than 19,000 Maoist former combatants, making concerted effort to draft a forward-looking constitution, and provide relief to people crushed by poverty, unemployment, and corruption.Skip to next paragraph
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“The country needs many things. But if I only manage to conclude the peace process and draw up a new constitution, I will have made historic achievements,” Bhattarai said addressing the parliament before the vote on Sunday.
Nepalese people appear to take Bhattarai seriously, despite having become increasingly distrustful of political leaders in the years since a special assembly was elected in 2008 to accomplish such goals.
“He is seen as a moderate in his party and has consistently argued with rivals in his party that neighbors, the international community and rival political parties need to be taken into confidence to steer the country ahead,” says Luintel. “He has the right kind of image to be able to balance international actors too, which is a must to steer forward the peace process,” Luintel adds.
Balancing the Maoist Party
But what is perhaps the biggest question facing Bhattarai today is how well his own party helps him perform as a prime minister.
“Despite his popularity, Bhattarai’s success or failure as a prime minister will depend on the internal dynamics of his own party,” warns Luintel.
Though the country’s political parties are in agreement now about what to do with some of the former Maoist fighters, a powerful faction led by the Maoist Party’s second-in-command Mohan Baidhya, a hardliner, has delayed the process.
Mr. Baidhya is bargaining over the type of positions that the former fighters should be offered in the Army, and the amount of cash those choosing rehabilitation should be offered.
But Bhattarai fortunately has the support of both Baidhya and Party Chairman Prachanda, says Wagle.
“Bhattarai earned their gratitude by preventing a recent spat between the two leaders from culminating in a vertical split in the party,” Wagle says. “Bhattarai therefore has an opportunity to prove that he was right in bringing his party to peaceful politics,” he argues.
Another factor that should ensure progress in Nepal’s political now, says Wagle, is the fact that in the opposition now are only two major parties, the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist, both are used to parliamentary system and are less disruptive as opposition.
“In terms of obstructing political process, the Maoists have the potential to be unruly and therefore are more harmful than Congress and UML,” he says.
Meanwhile, a Supreme Court quashed on Sunday a writ petition that would have invalidated of the term extension of Nepal’s elected assembly. This has also eased the heat on political parties.
The extended term of the assembly is expiring on Aug. 31. And with the Supreme Court’s decision, the political parties are in a position to buy more time to give the country a new constitution, a key demand of the Maoists.