Saturday, August 6, 2016

Nepal inaugurates 25th prime minister in 26 years amidst post-earthquake delays

PETER LLOYD: There's been yet another change of government in Nepal and there are fears that that will further slow already delayed earthquake reconstruction efforts.

Yesterday the country inaugurated its 25th prime minister in just 26 years of democracy.

But it won't end there: under a fragile coalition deal, the Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal has himself now promised to hand over power in less than one year.

Pundits say that spells doom for scheduled elections and warn that politics will likely interfere with rebuilding efforts after last year's earthquake.

South Asia correspondent James Bennett has our report.

JAMES BENNETT: Pushpa Kamal Dahal previously led Nepal's Maoist revolutionaries and still likes to go by his nomme de guerre, 'Prachanda' - meaning fierce or extreme.

Sworn in as Prime Minister number 25 yesterday, the former rebel commander acknowledges his task is now not to do battle but to heal the ethnic wounds which forced his predecessor from power.

PUSHPA KAMAL DAHAL (translation): There is no way to resolve the problems of the constituency of this country and the election-related issues without uniting ourselves.

JAMES BENNETT: Nepal has been bitterly divided, broadly between its mountain-dwelling upper castes and minority Madhesis who live on the plains bordering India below. The minority group's anger is over Nepal's new constitution, brought in last year.

Chief among their complaints are provincial boundaries which, they argue, were drawn by Kathmandu to divide them between the states and thus dilute their voices.

New leader Prachanda has won the Madhesis' provisional backing to renegotiate, but hopes aren't high.

SANJEEV POKHAREL: People do not expect much changes in terms of political course of the country, let alone any positive for our economic development that this country very much needs.

JAMES BENNETT: Sanjeev Pokharel is a Nepalese political commentator. He says he's sceptical because Prachanda's coalition deal with the Nepalese Congress Party requires him to relinquish the prime ministership to a congress MP in nine months' time.

SANJEEV POKHAREL: Breaking this term into two doesn't give us the required stability to hold elections. And this was done primarily by these political leaders in order to make their political parties stronger to face the election. But this is very, I would say, bad politics.

JAMES BENNETT: Former Nepalese ambassador to the United Nations Madhu Raman Acharya also thinks the planned transfer of power between the coalition parties will end badly:

MADHU RAMAN ACHARYA: There has always been difficulty in changing over the leaders of the government. So that is likely to happen again. Not many people really believe that there will be a smooth transfer of power.

JAMES BENNETT: The previous government of KP Sharma Oli was heavily criticised for dragging its feet in appointing a reconstruction authority to oversee post-earthquake rebuilding. Madhu Raman Acharya fears political bickering over who should lead that task will again delay its work.

MADHU RAMAN ACHARYA: We are still in the middle of the transformation phase: the political transformation and the consequences of the peace process and the rebuilding. So there are lots of things to handle for any new government.

JAMES BENNETT: For all his challenges, the analysts believe Nepal's newest leader does enjoy his nation's good will. Prachanda himself seems well aware of how important that is.

"We are all in the same boat," he says, "and if it sinks we will all drown."

This is James Bennett reporting for PM.
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