New PM Khanal faces Himalayan challenge in Nepal

Shirish B Pradhan

Kathmandu, Feb 6 (PTI) Veteran Communist leaderJhalanath Khanal, who was today sworn in as Nepal''s new PrimeMinister after a seven-month deadlock, faces a Himalayanchallenge to conclude the stalled peace process and draft afresh constitution for the young republic.

Amid the failure to finalise a power sharing deal withthe Maoists, whose support was crucial in fulfilling hisaspirations, Khanal today was unable to announce a newcabinet.

Even as the veteran Communist leader has been wellserved by his advocacy to include the Maoists in mainstreampolitics, he now faces the challenge of carrying along theNepali Congress, the second largest party in the House set tobe the main opposition party.

61-year-old former science teacher is a life-longcommunist who played a key role in the struggle to restoredemocracy in the country, spending several years underground.

Khanal''s willingness to engage with the Maoists, whoemerged as the single largest party in the 2008 polls, put himat odds with many senior members of his party, but ultimatelypaid off when he won the support of the ultra-leftists in theprime ministerial vote.

He has underlined the need to involve the formerrebels, who fought a decade-long war against the state beforesigning a 2006 peace deal and entering mainstream politics.

"Meaningful Maoist participation in the new governmentis essential to deliver peace," Khanal said earlier. "(Weshould) be ready to accept the leadership of whoever succeedsin bringing them on board."

He was a founding member of the leftist UML (UnifiedMarxist Leninist) party, which has its origins in thecommunist movement that has strong roots in rural Nepal.

Khanal is an experienced politician, havingserved as a minister in two previous governments and becamechairman of the CPN-UML in 2009 after the defeat of topCommunist leaders in the 2008 elections.

According to experts, Khanal has a reputation for"being clean" and principled in his approach to politics.

A senior analysts described Khanal as an "independentthinker".

Amid the standoff in the formation of a newgovernment, Khanal had to bear the brunt of the mountingfrustration in the country. He was slapped by one of hisformer cadres at a party programme in rural Nepal last month.

Khanal was minister for Agriculture, land reform andenvironment during the Interim government in 1990 and Ministerfor Information and Communication during coalition governmentin 1997.

He became founding member of National CoordinationCommittee for All Communist Revolutionaries of Nepal. Khanalis close to the Maoists and regarded as hardliner leader ofthe party unlike outgoing Prime Minister Madhav Nepal who isregarded as moderate communist leader.

During the earlier election process, he quit the racein favour of Prachanda, but the idea was opposed by a sectionof the party which decided to remain neutral during the seriesof run-off polls.

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