Kathmandu: Nepal`s new leader began the task of forming a coalition government on Friday that will face major challenges as the country struggles to complete its transformation to a peaceful, secular democracy.
Jhalanath Khanal, chairman of the UML (Unified Marxist Leninist) party, is expected to be sworn in as prime minister on Sunday after securing the backing of the Maoists, the largest force in Parliament, in a vote on Thursday.
His election ends a damaging seven-month leadership vacuum in the troubled Himalayan nation, which is still struggling to recover from the impact of a decade-long civil war between Maoist rebels and the state.
The conflict ended in 2006 and led to the abolition of a centuries-old Hindu monarchy, ushering in a period of transition to democracy that has not always proved smooth.
Nepal has been without a government since June, with political leaders unable to reach agreement on the formation of a new administration in 16 previous rounds of voting.
A new Constitution, intended to reshape the country after the downfall of the monarchy, should have been completed by May last year but has been repeatedly delayed by disagreements between the parties.
Progress on completing the peace process that began when the Maoists laid down their arms in 2006 has also been held up, with thousands of former Maoist soldiers living in camps as they wait for their fate to be decided.
Welcoming Khanal`s election, US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said Washington hoped it would "give renewed momentum to the peace process and constitutional drafting".
Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, better known as Prachanda, or `the fierce one`, said he had decided to back 60-year-old Khanal to "end the political deadlock”.
Khanal, a former science teacher, has said he wants his cabinet to be inclusive and several key posts are expected to be taken by the Maoists.
But as talks on the formation of the new administration began, analysts warned that the deep political divisions behind the long stalemate had not gone away.
"With the biggest party behind him, Khanal`s government will be relatively stable. But the question remains as to what kind of deal he struck with Prachanda," said journalist and political commentator Kunda Dixit.
"He will have to use all his skills to steer a line between his own party on one side and Prachanda on the other."
Both parties are also suffering from internal splits. Dahal`s deputy, Baburam Bhattarai, formally opposed the decision to back Khanal, while several influential UML leaders had spoken out against a deal with the Maoists.
"The challenge facing the country is such that the new prime minister will have to win support from all the parties," said political analyst Lokraj Baral.
Baral warned of serious consequences if the second-largest party, the centrist Nepali Congress, chooses to oppose the new government.
"If the Nepali Congress decides to play an obstructionist role, there can be no progress on either the new Constitution or the peace process," he added.