After years of deadlock, Nepal is finally on the road to peace and stability. The Parliament on Monday elected Sushil Koirala, a longtime democracy activist, as the country’s new prime minister. Seventy five-year-old Koirala is the president of the Nepali Congress, which emerged from elections in November as the party with the most seats in the country’s Constituent Assembly. He won more than two-thirds of the legislators’ votes, with 405 voting for him and 148 opposed.
Nepal has been going through a period of political paralysis due to bickering among parties on a host of issues. Koirala’s election was made possible after the two leading parties, the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist), put aside their differences and signed a seven-point deal promising, among other things, to adopt a constitution within a year and allow the present president and vice president to remain in office until then.
Koirala is the best prime minister Nepal can get today due to his popularity and clean image. He is unmarried and is known for leading a Spartan life in a country where most of the people are poor.
The new prime minister has a tough job ahead, one that requires plenty of political courage and wisdom. Age is not on his side, but he will have to work tirelessly to bring disparate groups together in the interest of the country and to strengthen democracy and economy. Finalizing a constitution will be no easy job, but something he can achieve. His comfortable margin of victory gives hope that the Constituent Assembly might finally finish the job of writing a constitution, which must pass by a two-thirds majority.
The two most contentious issues in the writing of the constitution are whether to adopt an executive presidency and how to divide the country into smaller political units. A 10-year civil war between the Maoists and the government ended in 2006, but the resulting Constituent Assembly spent four years trying to write a constitution without success, leading to political chaos and paralysis. A technocratic government was chosen last year to oversee new elections.
Nepal has suffered badly due to the political crisis and it’s time for parties to bury their differences and agree on a constitution. It’s a complex country. About 120 parties competed in the election last year. It is said to have more than a hundred ethnic groups, more than a hundred spoken languages, scores of castes and three distinct ecosystems. Bringing unity in such diversity is a Himalayan job, and only a leader like Koriala can achieve that.