Nepal names its prime minister

By Rajneesh Bhandari and Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Katmandu, Nepal, and New Delhi — Nepal on Sunday named a new prime minister, the fourth Communist to hold the post since the nation became a republic in 2008.

Baburam Bhattarai from the Unified Communist Party of Nepal Maoist defeated Ram Chandra Poudel of the Nepali Congress party after winning the support of several smaller parties. He immediately pledged to forge a consensus to complete the peace process and the writing of a constitution, two issues that have thrown the country into a protracted political crisis.

Bickering among politicians means that Nepal has still not decided whether it wants its national leader to follow a presidential or prime ministerial model or how many states should be included in the federation.

Another major sticking point is how to integrate thousands of Maoist fighters housed in camps since the nation’s civil war ended in 2006. A proposal to integrate them into Nepal’s military has met resistance from army officers who distrust them.

Political analysts said Bhattarai could bring a fresh approach to Nepal’s political impasse, but his ideology could be an impediment to compromise with conservative parties and the left wing of his own party. “How he balances the two is something that will determine how successful he can be,” said Binod Bhattarai, a political analyst who is not a relative.

Many ordinary Nepalis, meanwhile, said what they most wanted was a plan for moving forward. “All we want as an ordinary citizen is peace and constitution,” said Sushil Aryal, 56, a banker in Katmandu.

Bhattarai, 57, was born into a lower-middle-class peasant family in a remote village in central Nepal. According to his website, one branch of the Bhattarai family advised royalty as priests and astrologers centuries ago, while his branch toiled as peasants. He received informal instruction in the village until a mission school opened a two-hour walk away.

He attended college in India, where he received a PhD in architecture. In 1981, while still in India, he joined the Communist Party of Nepal.

Bhattarai returned to Nepal in 1986, where he rose through the party ranks. During the 1996-2006 civil war between the Communists and forces aligned with the monarchy, he went underground. Since 2008 he has served as the nation’s finance minister in various coalition governments.

Special correspondent Bhandari reported from Katmandu and Times staff writer Magnier from New Delhi.

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