A 66-year-old Sanskrit scholar and follower of Mahatma Gandhi's non-violence doctrine became Nepal's `prime minister in waiting', ending the longest dynastic rule in the country's party politics.

Ram Chandra Poudel was elected chief of the Nepali Congress (NC) parliamentary party
Last Updated: 2009-06-21T12:54:45+05:30
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Ram Chandra Poudel
Ram Chandra Poudel

Poudel's election ends over six decades of dominance by the Koirala family, regarded as the Gandhi dynasty of the Himalayan republic.

Girija Prasad Koirala, the strong man of Nepali politics, five-time prime minister and the architect of the peace negotiations that led to the end of the Maoist insurgency in 2006, finally relinquished his iron hold on the party due to age and failing health.

Poudel, also a former home minister, speaker and peace and reconstruction minister, won a four-cornered election late Saturday night, trouncing his closest opponent, former prime minister and Koirala protege Sher Bahadur Deuba.

"I have strong cultural and spiritual ties with India," Poudel told IANS. "I am a follower of Mahatma Gandhi's doctrine of ahimsa (non-violence)."

With the 84-year-old Koirala's gradual withdrawal from active politics, Poudel becomes the most important figure after the current Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal and the Maoists.

If Nepal's nearly four-week-old government collapses, the NC would have a chance to lead the next government with Poudel then becoming the next premier.

As the leader of the second-largest party in parliament, he would also have a considerable say in the new constitution, which is to be promulgated by May 2010.

Poudel, whose party was locked in a fierce dispute with the Maoists under Koirala's leadership, said his priority would be to contribute to the drafting of a new democratic constitution and establish lasting peace.

He also said he would aim for better ties with the international community.

Traditionally, the NC has been close to India's ruling Congress and socialist parties, having taken part in India's freedom struggle against the British. The Koirala family enjoyed personal ties of friendship with veteran Indian leaders and freedom fighters.

However, though Koirala indicated he was withdrawing from active politics, younger members of the clan are still in the ring.

Besides Koirala's daughter Sujata, who is current foreign minister, his two nephews, Shekhar Koirala and Shashank Koirala, are members of parliament.

The NC, since its inception in exile in India in 1946, had been dominated by three Koirala brothers, all of whom also became prime ministers.

Besides Koirala, they were Matrika Prasad Koirala and Bishweshwor Prasad Koirala, who was also Nepal's first elected premier.

The end of dynastic rule in the NC comes after the fall of Nepal's two most powerful dynasties - the Rana prime ministers and the Shah kings - indicating sweeping changes in the once isolated and conservative kingdom.

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