KATMANDU, Nepal - The deeply fractured Parliament of Nepal elected a Maoist as the country’s new prime minister yesterday, after weeks of efforts to form a national unity coalition proved fruitless.
The new prime minister, Baburam Bhattarai, is a senior leader and intellectual force in the United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist). The party gave up armed rebellion in a 2006 peace accord and unexpectedly won the most seats, though not an outright majority, in the 2008 legislative elections.
Bhattarai faces the same thorny problems that made previous governments of Nepal short-lived: how to reintegrate the 19,000 former fighters of the Maoist rebellion back into civilian society or the army, and how to balance power in a permanent new constitution.
“This is the last opportunity,’’ Bhattarai, 57, told the Parliament. “I am determined to complete the peace process and constitution drafting.’’
It will be an uphill task. The other two major parties - the Nepali Congress Party and the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) - remain in opposition, and to win, Bhattarai needed support from smaller parties, which could withdraw at any time. Though seen as the No. 2 Maoist leader after the chairman, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Bhattarai is not universally supported in his own party.
The Maoists have struggled to turn their plurality into a stable coalition government. Three successive prime ministers have resigned after a few months in office, followed by weeks of deadlock over a successor. The latest, Jhalanath Khanal of the Communist Party, was elected in February and stepped down Aug. 14.
Bhattarai was one of the central negotiators of the November 2006 accord that ended the country’s bloody 10-year insurrection, and he won praise as finance minister in the first elected Maoist government. He has a reputation for integrity and for a modest lifestyle that is unusual among top Nepalese politicians.
He said yesterday that despite the failure to organize a national unity government, he would continue to try to garner agreement from the main opposition parties for measures to complete the peace process.