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Last Updated: Friday, 4 June, 2004, 13:57 GMT 14:57 UK
Nepal PM's Himalayan task
Sher Bahadur Deuba
Deuba must try to bring Maoists back to the negotiating table
By Bhagirath Yogi
BBC Nepali service

Sher Bahadur Deuba, who was appointed by the king to a third term as Nepal's prime minister on Wednesday, faces enormous challenges.

The Nepali Congress, which has been spearheading opposition protests against the king's executive powers, may have postponed its response to the latest royal appointment but the nation's Maoist rebels were swift to attack it.

They accused King Gyanendra of bowing to pressure from "American imperialists".

The response from other political parties has at best been mixed.

Another major player in the five-party opposition alliance, the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist, UML), has indicated it could support Mr Deuba - but only if his appointment represents the reinstatement of his earlier dissolved government.

Support from the Nepali Congress may too depend on whether Mr Deuba is prepared to reinstate the dissolved parliament.

King Gyanendra dissolved it in May 2002 - ironically on the recommendation of Mr Deuba during his last term as prime minister, before the king sacked him.

Top priorities

Mr Deuba is likely to forge an alliance including the UML, the royalist National Democratic Party and his own Nepali Congress (Democratic) faction.

Deuba may have been the only candidate acceptable to the US, India and China
Shree Govinda Shah, analyst

Analysts say this alliance could hold well past parliamentary polls.

They say the Nepali Congress and other smaller parties are likely to continue their anti-king protests.

Holding elections, along with restoring peace, was one of the top priorities that Mr Deuba set out after his reinstatement.

Many analysts see his return as a humiliation for the king after two previous appointees as prime minister failed to set dates for fresh elections.

Lokendra Bahadur Chand and Surya Bahadur Thapa also failed to persuade opposition parties to end their protests against the king or to bring the Maoists into the political mainstream.

Mr Deuba's reinstatement may have been the safe bet for the king as he tried to diffuse the opposition campaign and gather international support.

"Deuba may have been the only candidate acceptable to the US, India and China, who are in a position to influence decisions in Kathmandu," says Shree Govinda Shah, a Nepalese policy analyst.

"It may have also helped the king to save face by avoiding a situation of appointing a prime minister jointly recommended by the agitating parties."

The king had given the opposition alliance until last Monday to suggest a candidate - but it failed to do so.

Indian influence

An even bigger challenge for Mr Deuba will be to bring the Maoist rebels back to the negotiating table again.

Nepalese protester in Kathmandu
Anti-monarchy street protests have dogged the king for over a year

Mr Deuba, in an earlier tenure, negotiated a ceasefire with the rebels in August 2001, but it lasted only four months.

He has less than 10 months to initiate elections as requested by the king and many believe polls cannot be held unless the rebels agree to a ceasefire.

On Thursday, rebel leader Prachanda called Mr Deuba's reappointment an "old drama by the old regime [that] will do nothing but intensify the civil war".

On one hand there seems little the king can offer the rebels, but on the other the Maoists are said to be finding it difficult to sustain their conflict and boost the morale of their cadres.

Analysts say they could be forced to negotiate with the new government if India continues to exert pressure and deny them what many believe is sanctuary for their leadership on Indian soil.

New Indian foreign minister, Natwar Singh, made Nepal his first foreign visit, arriving in Kathmandu on Friday for what he called an "important" trip.

"It is no coincidence that Nepal is the first country I am visiting after taking office," he said.

Mr Deuba, for his part, will have to pick up the threads of the government he lost nearly two years ago.

Many analysts believe he now faces a worse situation.

Tackling increased royal interference, an escalation of the Maoist conflict and rising human rights violations will not be an easy task.




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