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Nepal elects new president amid split in the governing coalition


The election of a senior leader of the Nepalese Congress to the post of president comes as the governing coalition is divided over his nomination by the Nepalese prime minister.

Veteran Nepalese Congress leader Ram Chandra Paudel has been elected the third president of the Himalayan nation since the century-old monarchy was abolished in 2008.

In the two-man race for the largely ceremonial position, 78-year-old Paudel garnered 33,802 votes. His rival, Subash Chandra Nembang, received 15,518 votes, Nepalese media reported Thursday.

Paudel, a former speaker, has been a legislator six times and held ministerial positions five times, including the Ministry of the Interior. He began his political career as a student leader during the decades-long non-partisan Panchayat system that lasted until 1990. He was imprisoned fighting against the rule of the former king.

The vote follows a dramatic split in the communist-dominated governing coalition led by Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, a former Maoist rebel leader.

The term of the outgoing president, Bidya Devi Bhandari, will end on March 12.

The president is elected by an electoral college consisting of two chambers of the federal parliament and seven provincial legislatures. Nepal is a parliamentary democracy with a ceremonial president as head of state, but in times of political crisis, the president can play a key role in government formation.

At least 831 votes were cast out of 881 eligible votes in the presidential election. The vote weight of a member of the federal parliament is 79, while it is 48 for a member of the provincial assembly.

Political uncertainty

The election came at a time of political uncertainty following last November’s election, which produced a hung parliament and a fragile coalition government.

Prime Minister Dahal decided to support Paudel in the presidential bid despite forming his government with support from the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist or CPN-UML), the second largest party in parliament.

The CPN-UML has accused Dahal of breaching a power-sharing agreement and cutting ties with the governing coalition.

This move paved the way for a new pact between the Nepalese Congress and the Dahal-led Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre), the largest and third largest party respectively.

The newly elected president will immediately face a political crisis as the Supreme Court will hear a petition demanding that Dahal be arrested and investigate his leadership during a decade-long civil war that left thousands dead. The war ended in 2006 when the then outlawed Maoists led by Dahal signed a peace agreement with the government.

Analysts have said the new president’s biggest challenge is maintaining an impartial constitutional role.

“The president is not supposed to act independently, nor to be a separate center of power,” constitutional expert Bipin Adhikari told Reuters. “In most cases, the president is supposed to act on the recommendation and with the consent of the prime minister.”

Nepal is still struggling to recover from the economic hardship caused by COVID-19, which led to a drop in the number of foreign tourists coming to climb the country’s mountain peaks and hike its trails. Reviving tourism is needed to strengthen Nepal’s economy.

Dahal also needs to balance relations between Nepal’s two giant neighbours, India and China. Both New Delhi and Beijing vie for influence in the tiny Himalayan country.

Former Prime Minister and the leader of the CPN-UML Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli is believed to be pro-China, while the Congress Party has old ties with India dating back decades. The party was founded in 1946 in the Indian city of Kolkata, then known as Calcutta.

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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