Nepal elects Communist party leader new prime minister

Khadga Prasad Oli, who received 338 votes in Nepal's 597-member parliament, comes to power at delicate time as the country's new constitution takes effect.

Niranjan Shrestha/AP
Khadga Prasad Oli was appointed as the new prime minister of Nepal on Sunday.

Nepal's parliament elected Communist party leader Khadga Prasad Oli the new prime minister Sunday, thrusting him into the center of daunting challenges, from ethnic protests over the new constitution that has also upset vital neighbor India to rebuilding from April's devastating earthquake.

Mr. Oli received 338 votes from the 597-member chamber, Parliament speaker Subash Nemwang announced. Oli defeated his predecessor Sushil Koirala, who received 249 votes.

Oli, 63, is generally popular in Nepal and has a reputation for being an outspoken leader who is not afraid to criticize. Some describe him with the phrase, "Oli ko goli," which means, "When Oli speaks he fires" (a bullet).

He had previously served as deputy prime minister and as a minister in previous governments. He suffers from a kidney illness and has had to make trips abroad for treatment to India and Thailand.

The leader of the Communist Party of Nepal Unified Marxist Leninist received the support of many smaller parties, including their rival United Communist Party of Nepal Maoist.

Oli and Mr. Koirala are leaders of the top two political parties and were coalition partners in the last government. Koirala became prime minister in 2014, but the constitution that was adopted last month required him to step down.

It was still undecided which other parties would join in Oli's new government.

He comes to power at delicate time, with ethnic Madhesis and other groups in the south protesting against the new constitution in riots that have left 45 people dead. India, which has close ties to the Madhesis, is also unhappy with the constitution.

The country is facing a severe fuel shortage, thanks to an unofficial blockade by India and Madhesis blocking a key border checkpoint. Fuel and cargo trucks have been stopped at the border since late last month, after the constitution was approved Sept. 20.

The constitution divides Nepal into seven new states, with some borders slicing through the Madhesis' ancestral homeland in the southern plains along the border with India. The Madhesis, along with several other small ethnic groups, want the states to be larger and to be given more autonomy over local matters.

Talks last week between the government and protesters made little progress.

Indian officials deny there is a blockade and say drivers are afraid to enter Nepal, but Nepali authorities say there is no trouble at many other border crossings.

Soon after the election, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi called Oli on the telephone, congratulated him and invited him to visit India, according to a tweet from Mr. Modi's office.

The conversation between the two men is the biggest positive development in recent days between the two South Asian nations. Modi has not talked to Nepali leaders in recent weeks mainly due to his travels to United States and other countries.

A statement issued by the Indian embassy in Nepal said Modi expressed the hope and expectation that Oli will support all sectors of society so that there is peace and stability in the country.

"We are confident that the Government of Nepal will address the remaining political issues confronting the country in a spirit of dialogue and reconciliation," the statement said, an apparent reference to the tension with the Madhesi.

Madhesi lawmaker Laxman Lal Karna, who participated in the voting for the prime minister in parliament, said they would continue their protests until their demands are met.

Oli also must lead the country as it rebuilds from the devastating earthquake that damaged hundreds of thousands of homes and killed thousands were killed. The disaster also damaged the tourism industry, which relies on Westerners to trek the mountain trails and climb the soaring peaks.

Oli's party, known to be a center leftist group, has traditionally followed an economic policy that combines capitalist and socialist principles.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.