"An ethnic group seeking the formation of a separate state for Tamangs called a general strike on the day of the election while the Maoists themselves took out protest rallies in the capital after one of their trade union leaders and a lawmaker, Shalik Ram Jamkattel, was attacked by unidentified assailants Saturday night."
By Sudeshna Sarkar

Kathmandu, Aug 28 - Against the backdrop of violent protests in Kathmandu and outside, Nepal's former Maoist guerrillas returned to power Sunday, two years after the fall of their first government, with parliament electing India-educated leader Baburam Bhattarai as the restive republic's fourth prime minister in three years.

The 57-year-old scholar, who comes from a lower middle-class farmer's family in western Nepal's Gorkha district, and is described by acquaintances as having tended his father's cows and cut grass, showed his mettle during his very school days, topping the board exams, winning a prestigious international scholarship and going on to obtain a doctorate degree from New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Bhattarai, known as Laldhwoj - red flag - while living underground during the 10-year insurgency fought by his party, became Nepal's 35th prime minister after clinching a last-minute deal with the Madhesi morcha, a bloc of five ethnic parties whose 71 lawmakers held the key to Sunday's closely watched election.

After his candidacy was proposed in parliament Sunday by Maoist chief Prachanda and seconded by another deputy chief of the party, Narayan Kaji Shrestha, Bhattarai defeated his lone rival, Ramchandra Poudel of the Nepali Congress party, by polling 340 votes. A total of 575 MPs were present during the poll.

Poudel, a former deputy prime minister who had been the Nepali Congress's candidate in the earlier 17 rounds of vote, received a shot in the arm Saturday night with the third largest party, the communists, announcing they would support him.

However, despite the 108 communist MPs behind him, Poudel faced an uphill task as his own party had only 114 lawmakers. Sunday's election saw him poll 235 votes.

The Rastriya Prajatantra Party Nepal, the only royalist party seeking the restoration of monarchy and a Hindu state, boycotted the vote, demanding a fresh election to choose a new parliament. So did the communist Nepal Workers' and Peasants' Party, accusing 'Indian expansionism' of influencing Nepal's prime ministerial elections.

The Maoists, who after fighting a 10-year war signed a peace accord in 2006 and won the election in 2008, are now offering to disband their guerrilla army within 45 days of forming the new government.

The existence of their People's Liberation Army - with its nearly 20,000 fighters even five years after the insurgency ended is regarded as the main obstacle to the peace process and led to the fall of the first Maoist government in 2009.

Bhattarai is regarded as the moderate face of the Maoists, whose chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda failed to return to power after backtracking on his promise to demobilise the PLA, return the properties captured by the rebels during the civil war, and end the culture of impunity that saw both the state and Maoists carry out torture and extra-judicial killings.

The new prime minister will face an acid test soon.

Three days later, parliament needs to enforce a new constitution or face dissolution.

Nepal's major parties, warring for power, failed to write the new constitution despite the deadline being extended twice. Now the caretaker government of outgoing minister Jhala Nath Khanal is seeking to extend the Aug 31 deadline by three months more.

If the extension comes through, Bhattarai will have to win the support of all the major parties and ready the first draft of the constitution by November-end as well as discharge the PLA.

He will also have to restore law and order.

An ethnic group seeking the formation of a separate state for Tamangs called a general strike on the day of the election while the Maoists themselves took out protest rallies in the capital after one of their trade union leaders and a lawmaker, Shalik Ram Jamkattel, was attacked by unidentified assailants Saturday night.

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