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New Prime Minister Named in Nepal - 2002-10-11

Nepal's King Gyanendra on Friday named a new prime minister to govern the country until elections can be held. The king's action comes a week after he fired the elected government, sparking a political crisis in the world's only Hindu kingdom. But it is unclear what authority the new prime minister will have, or when elections will be declared.

Nepal's King Gyanendra summoned the leaders of major political parties to tell them he was naming Lokendra Bahadur Chand as Nepal's interim prime minister.

Mr. Chand is a staunchly pro-monarchist politician, whose party consists largely of rural leaders who held power at the local level under Nepal's absolute monarchy more than a decade ago. He has served as prime minister on three occasions; once during the absolute monarchy, and twice since Nepal became a constitutional monarchy in 1990.

Lok Raj Baral, a professor of political science at Kathmandu's Tribhuvan University says Lokendra Bahadur Chand is perceived by many to be an honest politician and likely to carry out King Gyanendra's wishes.

"I think the king, perhaps, has chosen Chand on two counts," he said. "Number One, he is not so assertive and active, and Number Two, according to our standards, he is a less corrupt person."

Last week, King Gyanendra dismissed Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, after the prime minister asked the king to postpone national elections for one year because of "security reasons." Maoist rebels, fighting to overthrow Nepal's government, have stepped up their attacks over the past year, putting much of the countryside outside government control. A state of emergency imposed to fight the rebels, has failed to stem the violence.

King Gyanendra's dismissal of Prime Minister Deuba marked the first time since Nepal became a constitutional monarchy in 1990, that a ruling monarch had ousted an elected government.

The king defended his action, saying the prime minister's request to postpone elections had created "an uneasy situation and a constitutional problem."

Prime Minister Deuba and other politicians in Nepal called the king's action unconstitutional. Diplomats from the United States and Britain called on King Gyanendra to move quickly to resolve the crisis.

Lok Raj Baral of Tribhuvan University says King Gyanendra had some support from die-hard monarchists, and others, who had become frustrated with Prime Minister Deuba's government. But he says most Nepalis feel their king had overstepped his limited constitutional prerogatives.

"Most of the political forces, all six parties in parliament, they have called it unconstitutional and undemocratic. Intellectuals, professional groups and other groups have all criticized the king's step, calling it non-constitutional, or unconstitutional," he said.

Lok Raj Baral says interim Prime Minister Lokendra Bahadur Chand's main task will be to insure that national elections take place, probably some time next year. Then, it will be up to a new prime minister to resolve Nepal's most pressing problem, the Maoist insurgency that has left more than 5,000 people dead, and destroyed Nepal's tourism-dependent economy.