Nepal’s first president begins with prayer to Pashupati

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS,

Kathmandu : Ram Baran Yadav, the 61-year-old physician who will be sworn in as the first president of the new republic of Nepal Wednesday and replace dethroned king Gyanendra as the head of state, embarked on his new career by offering prayers at the Pashupatinath temple here.

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A close election run-off Monday saw Yadav defeat his Maoist-backed rival – 73-year-old former revolutionary and bomb maker Ram Raja Prasad Singh.

After the victory, Yadav, a last-minute candidate fielded by Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s Nepali Congress (NC) party, offered traditional thanksgiving prayers at the altar of Pashupatinath – one of the holiest Hindu shrines of the Himalayan nation.

The first president, who will be the numero uno in Nepal’s administrative hierarchy as well as the supreme commander of the Nepal Army, will need all the help he can get since he faces the uphill task of protecting and ensuring compliance with the interim constitution.

The task has been made challenging due to the fresh rift that appeared among the major parties over the presidential election that Monday saw Yadav garner the support of two allies, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML) and Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (MJF), to defeat Singh 308-282.

The new alliance, condemned as “unholy” by the Maoists, has led to the possibility of the former guerrillas not joining the government.

The decision-making central committee of the Maoists began parleys Tuesday to draw up their future strategy and decide if they would try to head the new government or sit in opposition.

With the presidential poll isolating the Maoists and giving rise to a new alliance between the other three top parties, there is also the possibility that the latter could bid to form the government if the Maoists decided to stay away.

However, poll alliances have a short life in Nepal’s volatile politics. There were reports that the anti-Maoist bloc had already begun to fall out over the post of prime minister.

When the presidential race started, the NC, UML and MJF joined forces on the understanding that the first would get the presidency and the latter the post of vice-president, while the UML would be backed in the election for chairman of the newly elected constituent assembly. But there are rumblings now about the UML and MJF fighting over the post or prime minister.

The presidential vote also divided the parties from the Terai plains, from where the newly elected president himself comes. The major Terai party, the MJF, first sided with the Maoists and then veered to the anti-Maoist bloc. However, the MJF’s allies, the other smaller Terai parties, decided to back the Maoists.

Though the presidential election was to have resolved the deadlock gripping the nation for nearly three months and pave the way for a new government, it has now instead given rise to fresh complications.

Yadav met the prime minister Tuesday. As per the constitution, after his swearing-in Wednesday, he will formally accept the resignation tendered by Koirala in the assembly and relieve him of his duties.

Yadav, who won the April election from the prime minister’s party, will also have to resign from the assembly and his party, where he enjoyed the post of general secretary.

The president will also have the power to declare a state of emergency on the recommendation of the cabinet. He can be removed if he resigns or is impeached by a two-third majority of lawmakers.