Nepal’s Revolving Door Produces a New Leader but No Hoped-For Change
The former leader of a decade-long Maoist insurgency was elected prime minister by the Nepalese parliament on Monday, a move that helps the old defenders stay in power despite calls to change the date. growing and welcomed in China as it jostles for influence in the Himalayan nation.
Former rebel leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal, 68, has become the country’s top leader for the third time in 14 years after weeks of negotiations that followed an inconclusive November election and a surprise turnout. The country’s two main communist parties have drawn closer together.
In Nepal’s music president election system, Mr Dahal will succeed 76-year-old Sher Bahadur Deuba, who had hoped to win a sixth term as prime minister. The main bloc supporting Mr Dahal is led by the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxism-Leninism), chaired by another former prime minister, KP Sharma Oli, who is seeking a fourth term.
Many Nepalese voters reacted to Mr. Dahal’s oath of office on Monday with an expression of disappointment.
“Not interested. He has been elected prime minister twice but has done nothing for us,” said Saroj Basnet, 45, a businessman from Lalitpur, near the capital Kathmandu. Mr. Basnet said that the little hope he found in the election came from “new faces who are joining the government as ministers.”
Mr Dahal’s victory represents a continuation of the establishment in an election that has attracted an unusual number of young candidates and called for a new direction for the first time in one of Europe’s poorest countries. ASIAN.
It has also been warmly welcomed in China, which has increasingly infiltrated Nepalese politics through funding and infrastructure development aid as neighboring India struggles to hold the country firmly in place. its sphere of influence.
Mr. Dahal, the head of another communist party, the Communist Party of Nepal (Centre Maoist), first became prime minister in 2008, after abandoning a decades-long insurgency that claimed his life. of 17,000 people.
The armed uprising succeeded in overthrowing the centuries-old Hindu monarchy and establishing a democratic republic, which Mr Dahal and his supporters say will pave the way to economic prosperity for Nepal.
But as the country struggled to find political stability, going through 13 governments in 14 years, Nepal has failed to develop at a pace appropriate for the majority of the young population centered in Kathmandu but also spread out across the country. in a remote mountainous area. Since 2008, no government has completed a full term.
With a high unemployment rate and few jobs created, the country’s economy depends on remittances from citizens working abroad. Every year, about 600,000 young people in this country of 30 million people leave the Persian Gulf and Malaysia to find work.
Inspired by the success of several independent candidates in Kathmandu and other cities in recent local elections, some 860 independent candidates ran for 275 seats in the National Assembly in November. , according to the Election Commission of Nepal. More than 1,000 candidates participated in the provincial council elections for 330 seats.
The huge field of candidates signals a strong desire to replace the political establishment with new blood. More than half of Nepal’s eligible voters aged between 18 and 40. A lively social media campaign to upset the old guard was held on Twitter with the hashtag #NoNotAgain.
A group of young professionals and political novices formed a party, naming Rabi Lamichhane, a television news anchor, as party president. Their party won 20 seats, but it is unclear if they will be able to dent the mainstream political order.
With limited options, the new party backed Mr. Dahal and was rewarded. Several members have been selected for ministerial positions, with Mr Lamichhane being appointed deputy prime minister and interior minister.
In an unforeseen twist, the controversy that followed the election brought the two communist leaders, Mr. Dahal and Mr. Oli, closer together. Mr Deuba withdrew from the agreement to run the government on a rotating basis with Mr Dahal, who then approached Mr Oli to strike a deal of their own. Under the published terms of the power-sharing agreement, the two men will take turns serving as prime minister.
China’s top leaders visited Kathmandu to advise unity among the country’s communist parties after the government led by Mr. Deuba’s centrist social-democratic party signaled that it was will accept US$500 million in aid.
After Mr. Dahal’s victory, congratulatory messages poured in from all three foreign power centers – India, China and the United States.
China attaches great importance to its relationship with Nepal and will strengthen cooperation with the Dahal government on infrastructure projects under the Northern Belt and Road Initiative, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said. Terrible. An official in Mr. Dahal’s party told Reuters that the new government would seek “closely equal relations” with both China and India.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was quick to express his willingness to cooperate with Mr. Dahal. “The unique relationship between India and Nepal is based on deep cultural connections and warm people-to-people ties. I look forward to working together with you to further strengthen this friendship.” he wrote on Twitter.
Relations between India and Nepal became strained during Mr. Oli’s last term. ends in 2021, after the government released a map claiming that about 150 square miles inside India were Nepal’s. Tensions eased after Mr. Oli left the government and Mr. Deuba came to power.
Emily Schmall Reporting contributions from Goa, India.