Nepal elects new prime minister


Communist Party of Nepal (UML) Chairman Jhalanath Khanal will be sworn in as Nepal's prime minister, Feb. 5, breaking a seven-month-long political struggle to elect a leader after the resignation of the previous PM last June.

The victory came after the Maoist Party decided to withdraw its chairman, Prachanda,  from the contest and vote for Khanal.

Voice of America says the Himalayan country's "new leadership is expected to revive Nepal's languishing peace process."

Khanal is a veteran communist and a political activist for more than four decades, going back to his student days and the struggle against the monarchy. He served in the 1990 Interim Government as minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Management, and then as Forest and Environment minister.

The Interim Government drafted Nepal's constitution and organized the country's first general election in 1991. Khanal was elected to parliament in that election. And also served as minister of Infomration and Communication in a 1997 coalition government.

Because of his political activities for democracy and economic rights, he was jailed and forced to go underground multiple times.

Khanal was elected chairman of the UML at its 2009 convention.

Khanal's biggest challenge will  be resolving the current political stalemate on how to integrate 19,000 former Maoist armed fighters, who are now living in camps.

In 2008, an agreement to integrate them into Nepal's Army was reached, but later the Army chiefs balked.

The three main political parties -- UML, Maoists and Nepali Congress -- have differed on ways to solve the problem. UML's Khanal has offered to integrate most with the Army and the rest would retire with help from the government and the United Nations.

The UML was instrumental in helping negotiate the 2006 peace treaty, which led to the Maoists agreement to give up its armed struggle and enter the electoral arena.

In the April 2008 elections, under UN supervision, the Maoists had emerged as the winner of the most seats in parliament with 226 out of 601. Nepal Congress had 110 and UML came in at 103.  In May, after years of twists and turns in the battle against the ruling monarchy, Nepal's lawmakers abolished the monarchy and declared the country a republic, ending 239 years of royal rule.

In August 2008, the Maoist's Prachanda was elected prime minister. But he failed in resolving the issue on integration of guerillas. Maoist-supported groups continued to attack and kill it political opposition, including UML members.

Khanal received congratulations from around the world, neighboring India and China. India and Nepal share a large border and similar struggles with Maoist insurgents.

Observers say  Khanal might succeed if he enrolls former guerrilla combatants to secluded units whose jobs would be policing the borders. But the Army continues to decline the integration of "political personnel" into a "professional non political" body.

Terrie Albano contributed to this story.

Photo: Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist) Chairman Jhalanath Khanal arrives at parliament in Kathmandu, Feb. 2.