KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Nepal’s lawmakers on Sunday chose a new prime minister who must reunite a country deeply divided over a fresh constitution, tackle crippling fuel shortages and kick-start reconstruction after two devastating earthquakes.
Many people from Nepal’s plains feel the constitution signed last month perpetuates long-standing domination by highland politicians. Fierce protests have left at least 40 dead and led to essential oil and gas deliveries from India being cut off.
The new prime minister, K.P. Sharma Oli, vowed after his confirmation to tackle Nepal’s woes, not least the devastation wrought by the earthquakes, which killed nearly 9,000 people in April.
“I will work alongside everybody to implement the constitution, repair the damage inflicted by the earthquake and address the hardships raised by the Indian blockade,” he said.
Nepal accuses neighbouring India of imposing a blockade in an attempt to force Kathmandu to listen to the demands of those in the plains of the south. India, while making clear its objections to the new constitution, denies this.
Oli, leader of the centre-left Communist Party of Nepal (UML), did win support in parliament from a group from the lowland Tarai region that had opposed the constitution.
The Madhesi People’s Rights Forum (Democratic) voted for Oli after he signed an agreement to review the demarcation of provinces - the key sticking point for ethnic groups that feel the new regional boundaries set down in the constitution take away their power.
In total, Oli won the support of 338 out of 587 lawmakers.
However, another lowland group said it would not take its seats in the newly formed parliament and would keep protesting.
Oli has until now taken a hard line towards demands from the south, although coalition politics may push him to be more flexible, since he is likely to need support from some plains parties to form a government.
Moreover, he will have to address relations with India, strained over Delhi’s opposition to the new constitution and the fuel shortages caused by the lack of deliveries from India.
“K.P. Oli is under pressure to deal with the Madhesi issue,” said Lok Raj Baral, a political scientist.
Almost six months after the earthquakes, the focus on party politics has drawn criticism.
Foreign donors gave $4.4 billion to Nepal in June to help earthquake reconstruction and rehabilitation, but political infighting has meant that the National Reconstruction Authority, formed the same month, has yet to begin work.
“The people of Nepal are terribly annoyed,” said Baral. “The politicians have become bogged down in non-issues like this election.”
K.P. Oli’s political journey began in a 1970s pro-democracy movement, inspired by Maoist Naxalbari insurgents in neighbouring West Bengal, that aimed to abolish Nepal’s monarchy.
After many years in prison, he emerged as a more moderate leftist.
Reporting by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Kevin Liffey