Sat, Jul 19, 2008 - Page 5 News List

Former exile tipped as Nepalese president

TABLES TURNED Authorities once sentenced Ramraja Singh to death for his part in bombings in 1985, but he may be elected the republic’s first president in a vote today

AP, KATHMANDU

A 72-year-old politician who once faced the death penalty on charges of bombing the parliament and the former royal palace is likely to become Nepal’s first president, party officials said yesterday.

Members of Nepal’s Constituent Assembly are scheduled to elect the first president of the new republic today, a key step in forming the new government because the president will swear in the new prime minister.

Independent politician Ramraja Singh was nominated for the post by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), known as the Maoists and made up of former communist rebels.

The party is the largest party, with 220 members in the 601-seat assembly.

ANTI-MONARCHY ACTIVIST

Singh was an anti-monarchy activist when he was convicted of bombing the palace and parliament building in Katmandu in 1985.

Several people were injured and Singh acknowledged his role in the bombings.

Authorities gave him a death sentence, but he was not in custody when the sentence was announced and he fled the country to live in exile in India.

He returned after 1990 when he was pardoned by a new government after the country was transformed into a constitutional monarchy.

He has not been an active politician since then.

The Maoists emerged with the most seats in the assembly after elections in April for the Constituent Assembly, which abolished the country’s centuries-old monarchy in May.

But the assembly has been unable to form a new government because the main parties have bickered over how to form a ruling coalition.

HELP NEEDED

The Maoists must recruit coalition partners because they do not have an outright majority needed to rule.

Their candidate for president, Singh, is backed by three smaller parties representing the Madheshi, a minority ethnic group in southern Nepal, where they have been campaigning for autonomy and greater rights.

Singh, who is not a member of the Maoists’ party, is a Madheshi from the south.

“We have decided to support Ramraja Singh because he is a Madheshi candidate and we have always been saying we will vote for someone who represents our cause,” said Jayaprakash Gupta of the Madheshi People’s Rights Forum.

MAJORITY VOICE

The four parties supporting Singh have more than half the total number of seats required for him to be elected president.

The Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist), the second and third largest parties, have their own candidates for president.

They do not, however, have enough votes.

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