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Nepal elects third president amid crisis in ruling coalition

Amid a bitter crisis in its ruling coalition, Nepal has elected a social-democrat Ram Chandra Paudel as its third president since the Himalayan nation ended its centuries-old monarchy. The Paudel’s election comes after a split in the communist-dominated ruling coalition headed by Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, a former Maoist rebel chief.

State-run Nepal Television reported that Paudel, a former speaker of parliament, was elected by a majority of 566 members of both houses of parliament and members of seven provincial assemblies, defeating his rival Subas Chandra Nemwang of the UML party.

Last month, Dahal supported Paudel, a candidate of the opposition Nepali Congress party, over one fielded by his key coalition partner, the Communist Unified Marxist-Leninist (UML) party. In response, UML has withdrawn support for the Prime Minister, requiring him to face a confidence vote this month.

Dahal is expected to cobble together a new coalition with the Nepali Congress party and other smaller groups in the next two weeks, party officials said.

He is already in the midst of another crisis, as the Supreme Court will hear a petition demanding his arrest and an investigation into his leadership during a decade-long civil war that killed thousands of people before it ended in 2006.

The president is required to play a largely ceremonial role, though it can play a key function during political crises. Analysts say the biggest challenge for the new president is to maintain an impartial constitutional role.

Paudel, a seasoned politician, replaces Bidhya Devi Bhandari, who retires next week at the end of her five-year term.

Nepal’s PM faces court hearing

Nepal’s top court will hear a petition on Thursday demanding the arrest of the Prime Minister and an investigation into his leadership during a decade-long civil war that killed thousands of people.

Dahal, a former Maoist guerrilla commander, led rebels against Nepal’s security forces during the conflict, which raged for 10 years until 2006 and killed about 17,000 people before a peace deal overseen by the United Nations put an end to hostilities.

Bimal Paudel, an official at the Supreme Court, said the petition seeking Dahal’s arrest has been registered and the first hearing is scheduled on Thursday.

In a public gathering three years ago, Dahal – who still goes by his nom de guerre Prachanda – said he was ready to take responsibility “for 5,000 deaths” during the civil war, blaming the then-state forces for the remaining fatalities.

Relatives of the victims of the conflict said in the petition: “Since the transcript of his objectionable expression accepting that he killed people, including our relatives, is available [on] the social media … we demand that he be arrested and investigated”.

The former rebels, including Dahal’s ruling Maoist Centre party, have said that cases of abuse committed during the conflict must be settled by two transitional justice panels set up under the peace deal.

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