Maoists bite dust as Nepal elects first president (Lead)

July 21st, 2008 - 5:28 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, July 21 (IANS) There was much dancing and slogan-shouting Monday as Ram Baran Yadav of the Nepali Congress made history by becoming the first president of the new Himalayan republic, defeating the Maoists’ candidate. This brought to an end the long standoff over the presidential election between Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s Nepali Congress and the Maoists.

Yadav, a 61-year-old former minister with Indian roots, garnered 308 votes and will replace ousted king Gyanendra as head of state.

A last-minute candidate after the Maoists refused to accept Koirala as president, Yadav defeated for the second time his Maoist-backed rival, 73-year-old former revolutionary Ram Raja Prasad Singh, who polled only 282 votes, two of which were later declared invalid.

Though the election was to have paved the way for a new government headed by the Maoists, it will now cast a cloud on future developments with senior Maoist leaders earlier warning that they would not sit in the government if they lost the election.

After winning a stunning victory in the April election, the defeat in the presidential contest will be a blow for the Maoists, showing up their lack of foresight and inability to carry the other major parties with them.

Yadav, who comes from Sapahi village in Dhanusha district along the India-Nepal border, is regarded as a national leader who had been resisting the polarisation of Nepalis into hill and plain communities.

His nomination was also backed by the third largest party, the Communist party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML), and the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (MJF), the biggest party from the Terai plains.

Though Nepal held its first presidential election Saturday and Yadav emerged as the front-runner, a re-poll had to be ordered since he did not garner the simple majority — 298 votes — required by the constitution.

The Saturday election, however, elected MJF man Parmanand Jha as vice-president.

Madhesis, people from the Terai plains, had been the most neglected and underprivileged community for a succession of governments, with little representation in the bureaucracy, judiciary and army.

Now, in an irony of fate, two of the nation’s top jobs have gone to two Madhesis.

A stung Maoist chief Prachanda called the opposition alliance “unholy” while the alliance said the politics of consensus had prevailed over the Maoists’ double-dealing.

The Maoists contributed to their own defeat by first forging a pact with the UML and then refusing to support the UML candidate.

After the spurned UML joined forces with Koirala’s party, the Maoists tried to woo the terai parties.

However, at the end, the main Terai party went to the opposition alliance, resulting in Singh’s decisive defeat.

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