Nepal's new Maoist PM sworn-in amid growing challenges

The former finance minister and India-educated scholar will now have to weather fierce bargaining for plum ministries with his allies, the bloc of five parties whose crucial support saw him win Sunday's election, as well as with his party chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda.

Power-sharing quarrels had prevented all the three last prime ministers, including Prachanda himself, from naming a full cabinet during the oath-taking ceremony and eventually contributed to the fall of the past governments.

That feuds still continue was indicated as Bhattarai swore in a single minister. The other member was Bijay Kumar Gachhedar, a leader from the United Democratic Madhesi Morcha, the bloc of the five parties from the Terai plains.

Gachhedar was appointed deputy prime minister as well as home minister amid rumours that the new cabinet would have four deputy prime ministers.

Maoist leader Chandra Prakash Gajurel said the other ministries will be decided after consultations within the party as well as with allies. The Madhesi Morcha has been promised 11 ministries.

The second and third largest parties, the Nepali Congress and communists, said they would sit in opposition but attended the swearing-in.

Bhattarai became Nepal's 35th prime minister after polling 340 votes Sunday, defeating Nepali Congress candidate Ram Chandra Poudel who obtained 235 votes.
While an ethnic group had called a general strike on the day of the election, two more called regional strikes on the day of the swearing-in.

The closure called by the Limbuwan Rajya Parishad shut down nine districts in eastern Nepal adjoining the border with India.

The new PM would have to reassure the nation of improved law and order, boost the ailing economy and stop investors from exiting Nepal.

The recent decision by Surya Nepal, ITC's subsidiary, to close its garment factory in turbulent eastern Nepal has sent out negative signals to investors.

Bhattarai will also have to implement within 45 days the peace programme outlined ahead of the election. It includes rehabilitating the Maoists' People's Liberation Army with its nearly 20,000 combatants.

Bhattarai's task is going to be made tougher by his own party leaders who have been resisting the disbanding of the guerrilla army.

Amidst the dark clouds, the Supreme Court, however, handed him a gift.

On Wednesday, the life of parliament ends. The government has to enforce a new constitution within that or face dissolution.

Bhattarai's predecessor Jhala Nath Khanal, acknowledging the deadline would not be met, sought to extend it by three more months.

However, the decision was challenged in court by two lawyers who accused the government of perpetuating a fraud on the country by extending the deadline several times.

The court scrapped their petition Sunday, saying another extension was justified by the doctrine of necessity, a decision that gives the new prime minister some breathing space.

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