KATHMANDU: Nepal’s fractious lawmakers elected veteran politician Sushil Koirala as prime minister on Monday, with the 75-year-old promising to steer through a long-delayed new constitution for the Himalayan nation within a year.
The silver-haired bachelor easily won a vote in the constituent assembly, which was elected last November in only the second national polls since the end of a civil war in 2006.
Koirala, from the family that dominates Nepal’s oldest party the Nepali Congress, won 405 out of 553 votes cast after winning the support of the influential leftist Unified Marxist-Leninist (UML) at the weekend.
“We will deliver the constitution through agreement, unity and reconciliation,” Koirala, who was once jailed over the hijacking of a plane in India, told reporters after the election.
“We would try to include all the parties in the process and would work to safeguard peace and democracy,” said the partly Indian-educated politician, wearing his trademark black cap and glasses.
He earlier told the assembly that the impoverished nation would rely on its two giant neighbours, China to the north and India to the south, “as well as other friends to complete our responsibilities”.
Since Nepal’s first post-war elections in 2008, five prime ministers have served brief terms, the country has had no leader for long periods, and the constituent assembly has been perpetually deadlocked.
The first version of the 601-member body, dominated by the one-time rebel Maoists, finally collapsed in May 2012 after failing to agree on a constitution and complete the peace process.
The Maoists, who traded their guns for politics after signing a pact to end the civil war, have been relegated to a humiliating third place in the new assembly with just 80 seats.
Koirala, who is expected to be sworn in on Wednesday, is the fourth member of his extended family to become prime minister in Nepal’s history.
He is charged with trying to unify and rebuild the country, whose economic growth has slid in recent years, forcing hundreds of thousands of Nepalis to migrate overseas for jobs.
“The government under my leadership will promote internal capital and external investment. We will create economic opportunities within our country to end poverty and unemployment,” Koirala said in his speech in the assembly.
Leaders from across Nepal’s political divide have pledged to draw up the constitution within a year, after the assembly convened for the first time since the polls last month.
Observers say he faces a difficult task.
“Koirala has to address the concerns of more than two dozen parties within the house,” Geja Sharma Wagle, a political commentator, told AFP.
“He also has to placate the opposition within his own party. People have high expectations from the government. So, Koirala will face several challenges,” he added.
As part of the weekend deal to form government, the Nepali Congress has agreed to UML’s request to hold fresh elections for top posts including for prime minister and president after the constitution is delivered.
The Maoists only agreed to be part of the new assembly in December after securing a pledge from the other parties to probe their claims that the elections were rigged.
The last assembly dissolved over the differences among parties on the issue of state boundaries, as well as the power of states and the president. When he was in his 30s and exiled with his family in India, Koirala was involved in hijacking a plane known to be carrying boxes of cash, which he and his relatives wanted to use to fund their Nepali Congress party.
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