Dahal returns to powerEight years after he was forced to unceremoniously resign as he attempted to remove then Nepal Army chief Rookmangud Katawal for insubordination on May 4, 2009, former commander of the Maoists rebels and current CPN (Maoist Centre) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal was on Wednesday elected to country’s top job for the second time.
Eight years after he was forced to unceremoniously resign as he attempted to remove then Nepal Army chief Rookmangud Katawal for insubordination on May 4, 2009, former commander of the Maoists rebels and current CPN (Maoist Centre) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal was on Wednesday elected to country’s top job for the second time.
Interestingly, this time Dahal made it to Baluwatar with the backing of the Nepali Congress, which at one point of time was his arch-enemy. Besides the NC, the Sanghiya Gathabandhan, an alliance of Madhesi and Janajati parties, also backed Dahal to elect him the country’s 39th prime minister.
During Wednesday’s election, Dahal, who was the lone candidate for the post of the prime minister, secured 363 votes—out of 573 votes cast—in the 595-member Parliament. The CPN-UML, which has decided to stay in the opposition, and Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal (RPP-Nepal) voted against Dahal.
The agitating parties, which are under the Gathabandhan, voted for Dahal following a three-point agreement as per which the Maoist-NC alliance will address the Gathabandhan’s demands through constitution amendment.
The new ruling alliance is 34 votes short of a two-third majority required for constitution amendment. Support of Kamal Thapa-led RPP-Nepal and a few fringe parties will be crucial in ensuring passage of the constitution amendment. Earlier on Wednesday, Dahal addressed Parliament as he made his case for why he “is a logical character” to resolve the current crisis and take everyone on board the political process. In his 51-minute-long speech, Dahal made strong emphasis on national unity until all three elections are held. He repeatedly sought to counter allegations that he was power-hungry or was working at the behest of external forces.
“No one needs to prove to anyone that we are patriots and are loyal to this country,” he said, responding to remarks made by KP Sharma Oli on July 24 just before announcing his resignation as prime minister. Oli had also raised questions about budget implementation, particularly some infrastructure projects like Kathmandu-Nijgadh fast track and Kerung-Kathmandu-Lumbini railway. Dahal told the House that he would take full ownership of the budget and accords reached with neighbouring countries.
Expressing his deep resentment at Oli’s remarks, Dahal sought to counter the narrative that somehow all the good work of the Oli government was taken without Maoist consent.
“We were part of the government for nine months and we had full participation and cooperation in the decisions taken by the [Oli] government. It is height of political dishonesty to say otherwise,” Dahal said.
But Dahal did ask Oli about financing of the big infrastructural projects. “I ask the prime minister to show me these projects when our revenue collection falls short of meeting even our regular expenditure?”
Dahal also sought to take credit for the conceptualisation of Nepal-China connectivity projects, including rail and road networks, as he brought his visit to China in 2008 as the prime minister to lawmakers’ notice.
Making a self-deprecating remark, Dahal also acknowledged his flaws. “Everyone knows my strengths and weaknesses. I am an open book. I am emotional, and many even say I am even temperamental and unstable. Those who chose to put a positive spin on it describe me as a dynamic [person]. But I leave it to the people and history to judge me.”
He also offered a broad vision of development prospects by talking about potential of reservoir-type projects for both energy and irrigation.
He also highlighted high value agriculture, forest, religious and nature tourism for bringing in prosperity.
“But for all these to happen, we need to first have a strategic development framework, including clarity on development financing,” he said.
Dahal ended his speech reiterating his call for national unity: “We are all in the same boat; we sail or sink together.”
India, China congratulate
Immediately after CPN (Maoist Centre) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal was elected prime minister, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated Dahal and invited him to visit India. Modi rang up Dahal soon after Parliament announced that Dahal was elected the new prime minister of Nepal on Wednesday. “Spoke to Nepal’s PM-elect Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachandaji and congratulated him. Assured him of our full support and invited him to India,” Modi tweeted at 4:52pm. According to officials, India will soon extend a formal invitation to Dahal to visit India. India is preparing to materialise the visit within this month. Similarly, Chinese Ambassador Wu Chuntai on Wednesday called on Dahal and congratulated on the behalf of the Chinese government and the people. According to a statement, the Chinese envoy wished Dahal a successful tenure as the prime minister. Wuhad reached Dahal’s Lazimpat residence with senior officials.
Oath and small Cabinet today
President Bidhya Devi Bhandari will administer the oath of office and secrecy to Pushpa Kamal Dahal as the 39th prime minister of Nepal on Thursday. Dahal is also likely to form a small Cabinet on Thursday.
According to Nepali Congress (NC) leader, Bimalendra Nidhi, who is said to have brokered negotiations between Dahal and NC President Sher Bahadur Deuba to bring them together, is likely to be picked as deputy prime minister and minister for home affairs, and he would lead the NC team in the government.
Other portfolios are yet to be decided, said an NC leader.
However, according to sources, Shekhar Koirala could be another NC leader who could be inducted into the Cabinet to be formed by Dahal on Thursday.
From the Maoist Centre, either Krishna Bahadur Mahara or Janardan Sharma is likely to be inducted into the Cabinet on Thursday, according to leaders.
Leaders of both the NC and the Maoist Centre said it will take a few weeks before the new Cabinet gets the full shape.