08/29/2011, 00.00
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Maoists back in power after two years

by Kalpit Parajuli
Maoist leader Baburam Bhattarai gets 375 votes out of 574, defeating the Nepali Congress candidate. He is the third prime minister in two years. The alliance with the Madeshi ethnic minority was crucial to his victory. He pledges support for the rights of ethnic and religious minorities threatened by proposed changes to the country’s penal code.
Kathmandu (AsiaNews) – Maoists are back in power in Nepal. Two years after historic Maoist leader Prachanda quit, Baburam Bhattarai, a leading member of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M), became the 35th prime minister of Nepal. He is the third head of government in two years, and replaces Communist Prime Minister Jalanath Khanal, who resigned on 15 August after only six months in power.

Bhattarai obtained the vote of 375 members out of the 574 present, 105 more than Ram Chandra Poudel, his only rival for the job and candidate for the Nepali Congress Party. The new prime minister won thanks to the votes of the Unified Madeshi Democratic Forum, which represents the Madeshi ethnic minority. Its support is based on a deal that would guarantee the rights of religious and ethnic minorities, threatened by proposed changes to the country’s penal code that would ban conversions and favour Hindus.

The new head of government must now grapple with major issues, such as drafting the new constitution within the terms laid down by the United Nations and integrate 19,000 Maoist guerrillas in society. Despite election promises, past governments fell on these two issues since 2007.

In recent years, Bhattarai has been a moderate figure. According to some analysts, he could bring a new approach to politics and break the country’s political and economic gridlock. However, his vision might also generate more opposition among conservatives, (non-Maoist) Communists and his party’s own extremists.

Born in 1954 into a peasant family in the small village of Belbas (Gorkha District, central Nepal), Bhattarai attended the Amar Jyoti Janata Secondary School in Luintel, graduating at the top of his class. In the 1970s, he went to university in India where he studied architecture and earned a Ph.D.

In 1981, he joined the Communist Party of Nepal. In 1986, he returned home to fight against the Hindu monarchy in a civil war that ended in 2006. He later moved to the Maoist party, and has served as finance minister in various coalition governments since 2008.
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