South Asia

Profile: New Nepal Prime Minister Jhalanath Khanal

Jhalanath Khanal

After more than seven months as a rudderless country without a prime minister, politicians in landlocked Nepal have elected a new leader.

Jhalanath Khanal, the chairman of the Communist Party of Nepal - Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML), won a clear majority of votes in parliament after he gained the backing of the Maoist party.

In doing so, 60-year-old Mr Khanal - the youngest of seven siblings - has become the 34th Prime Minister of Nepal.

Born in the south-eastern district of Ilam in 1950, he has been involved in politics for over three decades.

In 1990 and 2006, he played a role in the pro-democracy protests against the monarchy which finally led to its abolition in 2008.

Mr Khanal became an MP for the Ilam constituency after elections for Nepal's constituent assembly in 2008.

A year later, the former information and communications minister was elected chairman of the CPN-UML party.

This is not the first time he has stood as candidate for prime minister.

Mr Khanal was also nominated during the country's previous attempts to elect a new leader, which ended on Thursday after 16 failed votes.

Addressing parliament before the election, he said it was crucial for political leaders to consolidate the progress made since Nepal's 10-year civil conflict between Maoist guerrillas and the army ended in 2006.

"We must move ahead very quickly or once again be plunged into crisis," he told reporters.

"Parliament's main task is to draft the new national constitution and I can assure you that we will achieve that under my party's leadership of the next government."

Political disagreements

The deadline for writing the constitution is 28 May. Mr Khanal will also have to deal with the issue of the future of more than 19,000 Maoist fighters.

Image caption Mr Khanal must hold different factions together if he is to succeed

Under the peace deal signed in 2006, they should either be integrated into the national security forces or return to civilian life.

Political disagreements over how to handle this issue has held up the peace process.

Last month, the United Nations mission charged with overseeing the process withdrew from Nepal after the country's political parties did not extend its mandate.

The disagreements over how to handle this issue has held up the peace process. Last month, the United Nations Mission in Nepal (Unmin) - charged with overseeing the process - withdrew from Nepal after the country's political parties did not extend its mandate.

Analysts say another major challenge for Mr Khanal will be to keep his CPN-UML party behind him.

Many of the party's members distrust the Maoists and have been arguing against joining hands with them.

Similarly, it is still not clear if the influential Nepali Congress party - which helped elect Mr Khanal's predecessor Madhav Kumar Nepal to the post of prime minister - will join a coalition led by him.

Talking to the BBC on Thursday, Nepali Congress President Sushil Koirala blamed the CPN-UML of betrayal, insisting that his party will remain in opposition.

Mr Khanal becomes pilot of the ship as it enters choppy waters.

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