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HARD TASK

Getting a new prime minister should be some comfort for Nepal. The fact that it took the countryís parliament two and a half months after the general elections to elect a new prime minister shows that the road ahead for Sushil Koirala could be anything but smooth. The long interregnum after the polls was marked by squabbles between the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) over the composition of the new government and the allocation of portfolios. The CPN(UML)ís insistence on fresh elections to the posts of president and vice-president of the country as one of the conditions for its support to the NC-led government had made things uncertain. Although the party finally supported Mr Koirala for the prime ministerís job, it made no secret of its unhappiness over not getting the crucial home ministry. This cannot be a happy beginning for Mr Koirala, who needs the co-operation of not only his partners in government but also of the Opposition, especially the Maoists, to make his government work. But then, Nepalís three major parties, which worked together to end the monarchy, have since shown little interest in united action. If anything, the distrust among them has only grown worse in the past few years.

However, neither Mr Koirala nor the parties can afford to undo the democratic process that has been put in place since the end of the Maoistsí 10-year-long armed struggle. For all of them, the first task remains the same ó the writing of a new Constitution. The new government would do well to pick up the unfinished work of the Constituent Assembly. Mr Koirala has to ensure that the new Constitution is written within a year, as promised in the six-point agreement between the NC and the CPN(UML). Unless he keeps this promise, other points of the agreement may be impossible to implement. The new prime minister is 74 and has been unwell for several years now. But his record of personal sacrifices in the fight for democracy in Nepal earned him admirers beyond his own party. But his new challenge may well prove to be the toughest challenge of his political career. After years of civil war and turmoil, what Nepal needs first is political stability. And the best way to achieve that is to strengthen its fledgling democratic institutions. Mr Koirala has no option but to build a political consensus for his task.