Nepal, the World's Newest Republic

Nepal, the world's newest republic, is set for more major change after the Maoist leader was appointed prime minister and promised to deliver a left-wing revolution.

The charismatic leader -- whose nom-de-guerre means "the fierce one" -- was overwhelmingly voted in as the impoverished country's most powerful man in a vote by lawmakers on Friday evening.

Nepal has already undergone momentous change over the past two years, which have seen the Maoists end a decade-long revolt and sign up for peace, unpopular king Gyanendra sidelined and then sacked, and a 240-year-old monarchy abolished.

Maoist number-two and top ideologue Baburam Bhattarai hailed a "golden dawn" -- and more historic change.

"We feel that Nepal has found its hero. For any epoch-changing society, we need a hero," he said of Prachanda , a 53-year-old former school teacher.

In April, Prachanda steered his party to victory in elections for a new national assembly, set up as part of a peace deal to abolish the monarchy and write a new constitution.

But as premier he will face huge challenges, including urgently dealing with soaring food and fuel prices that have paralysed an economy struggling to recover from the civil war.

Millions of poor who backed the party will also be impatient to see quick land reforms that the ex-rebels argue are needed to lift much of the landlocked country out of grinding poverty.

There is also the issue of integrating the 20,000-strong rebel army, currently confined to United Nations-monitored camps, into the national army.

"The integration of the People's Liberation Army into the Nepal Army will see lots of arguments and counter-arguments. The way they deal with the army is very crucial," said Amit Dhakal, editor of the Kathmandu Post newspaper.

"The Maoists will try to bring in populist and radical economic reforms. But financially they will have lots of constraints."

Prachanda, who was inspired by Chairman Mao and Peru's Shining Path, has also had trouble shaking off his image as a ruthless warlord.

Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal -- also known as Prachanda --

Critics say the ultra-leftists have yet to fully abandon violence and that their feared youth wing -- the Young Communist League -- must disband to prove they are committed to peaceful democracy.

The other candidate for premier who Prachanda defeated, veteran centrist politician Sher Bahadur Deuba, warned the ex-rebels that they would not be allowed to "incline towards autocracy."

The first test will be the formation of a government, a process already in motion with the Maoists required to share portfolios with the parties who backed them in the assembly vote for Prachanda.

"He is a communist hardliner, but now he has a responsibility to meet the standards of democratic principles," said top Nepali Congress party official Narhari Achayra.

"This is an acid test for him to prove his commitment to democracy."

AFP

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