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King appoints new Nepal PM

Kathmandu, Oct. 11: Ending days of speculation, King Gyanendra today swore in Lokendra Bahadur Chand as head of a nine-member Cabinet.

The king also issued five directives to the new government which included establishing peace, holding elections to a new parliament to “strengthen the multi-party democratic system institutionally”, curbing corruption and ensuring fiscal transparency.

As Prime Minister, Chand said, his first priority will be to establish peace and then hold elections. He urged everyone to cooperate in this endeavour. He also stated, without elaboration, that he was open to talks with the Maoist rebels in their seventh year of a violent “people’s war”.

This is the fourth time that 63-year-old Chand has become Prime Minister. His earlier tenures were in 1983-1987, 1990 (for 11 days) and 1997.

It was his appointment as Prime Minister at the height of the 1990 people’s movement against the king-led panchayat system that sparked violent demonstrations in the capital which ultimately led to the end of direct rule by the king.

Although his choice by the late King Birendra was meant as a conciliatory gesture to an increasingly belligerent public, he carries the dubious distinction of being the last Prime Minister of the Panchayat era.

Chand is a leader of the Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP), the political outfit created after 1990 by those who were part of the Panchayat system.

Deputy Prime Minister, Badri Prasad Mandal was an assistant minister in the Panchayat days and is now the acting president of the Nepal Sadbhavana Party (NSP), which is strong in the Tarai plains bordering India. The rest consists of retired technocrats, a former Communist-turned-leader of a party that advocates greater rights for the country’s ethnic groups, a neurosurgeon and a social worker.

By appointing Chand unilaterally, the king has effectively ignored the request of the six parliamentary parties that their views be considered in the formation of the new Cabinet.

The political parties have yet to respond formally to the latest move by the monarch. Chand has said that he would consult other parties while expanding his Cabinet in which he holds 12 portfolios. Initial indications are that apart from the NSP and RPP the other four parties are not likely to join the government.

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