Nepal's parliament to elect new PM after breakthrough

KATHMANDU - Veteran politician Sushil Koirala is set to become Nepal's new prime minister Monday, following a political breakthrough that ended months of deadlock and raised hopes for stability in the war-torn nation.

Koirala, 75, is expected to win a vote in the constituent assembly or parliament after a rival party pledged its backing as part of a power-sharing agreement secured with his Nepali Congress party at the weekend.

Koirala's election is expected to pave the way for the formation of a new coalition government charged with ending a prolonged political crisis that has crippled Nepal's economy.

"Koirala has filed his candidacy for the post of prime minister. He is the sole candidate," parliament secretariat spokesman Mukunda Sharma told AFP. "The voting would take place on Monday at 11:00am local time (0515 GMT)," Sharma said late Sunday.

Following negotiations at the weekend, Koirala's party - which topped the polls last November - secured the backing of the Unified Marxist-Leninist party (UML), which came second.

"The details of the deal will be out soon," UML chairman Jhalanath Khanal told reporters on Sunday in the capital.

"We are also discussing the new government's policy and programme," Khanal said.

The Nepali Congress won 196 seats and the UML secured 175 in the 601-seat assembly. The Maoists, who traded their guns for politics after signing a pact to end the civil war in 2006, were relegated to a humiliating third place at the polls with just 80 seats.

If he wins on Monday, Koirala, a silver-haired bachelor, would become the fourth member of his extended family to become prime minister in Nepal's history.

A devoted member of the Nepali Congress party of which he is currently president, Koirala once spent three years in an Indian prison for his involvement in the hijacking of a plane.

Political limbo

Nepal held elections on November 19 for a constituent assembly that doubles as a parliament, charged with writing a constitution aimed at bringing stability to a country still divided by the legacy of the decade-long war.

The Maoists won Nepal's first post-war elections in 2008 by a landslide, two years after signing an agreement to end the uprising against the monarchy. As part of the deal, King Gyanendra agreed to stand down.

But the ensuing four years were marked by a series of short-term coalition governments, mainly led by the Maoists, and the first assembly broke up amid rancour in May 2012.

Nepal has been in political limbo since then.

Koirala will be charged with trying to unify and rebuild the country, whose economic growth has slid in recent years, forcing hundreds of thousands of Nepalis to migrate overseas for jobs.

Leaders from across Nepal's political divide pledged to draw up the constitution within a year, after the assembly convened for the first time since the polls last month.

As part of the weekend deal to form government, the Nepali Congress has agreed to UML's request to hold fresh elections for top posts including for prime minister and president after the constitution is delivered.

"We have agreed to amend the interim constitution to effect these changes," UML spokesman Pradeep Gyawali said on Sunday.

The Maoists only agreed to be part of the new assembly in December after securing a pledge from the other parties to probe their claims that the elections were rigged.