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Sujata Koirala rises in new Nepal dynasty PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 04 February 2008

Agence France-Presse . Kathmandu

Nepal is set to sweep away a discredited monarchy but a new political dynasty is emerging to rule the Himalayan outpost with key elections scheduled for April.

The ailing prime minister, Girija Prasad Koirala, has appointed his controversial daughter as minister without portfolio and she has moved quickly to strengthen her role as the power behind the throne.

Sujata Koirala says she fully deserved the January 10 appointment to a seat in cabinet and scoffs at parallels with the political dynasties of South Asia – the Gandhis, Bhuttos and Bandaranaikes.

But her story has eerie parallels. ‘I was born into a family where everyone was in politics,’ Sujata said in an interview late Thursday. ‘I used to accompany my father on his visits.’

The father, now 84 years old, and two of his late brothers – Bishweshwor and Matrika – have been at the centre of the often violent struggle for democracy in Nepal since the 1940s.

Each one became prime minister. Girija Babu, as he is affectionately known, led a coalition that forced the king to stand aside in April 2006. He has been premier since then – his fourth spell in the post – and is credited with restoring peace after a decade of civil war that left 13,000 dead.

Despite the family history, Sujata, aged 52, said her path into politics was far from easy. Rivals of her father blocked her first attempts to penetrate the Nepali Congress party apparatus.

‘But I became very popular among my workers ... and they wanted me to fight internal elections,’ she says. ‘Some people who were going to take (the) leadership after my father they objected ... so many people tried to stop me.’ After nearly a decade, she was elected three years ago to the party’s central committee and put in charge of international affairs.

Her house has since been bombed twice – she suspects ‘the palace organised’ one attack and the Maoists the other. And like most politicians here she has been repeatedly arrested. ‘I was arrested so many times I have lost count,’ she says recalling spending up to two months at a time in police cells.

Nominated to the new parliament, she says she’s working to ease the burden on her father. ‘I will try to help the prime minister. The last time he was not well I was calling all the ministries, but I have no authority so far to sign a lot of things. ‘I am thinking about strengthening the prime minister’s office,’ she says, listing an urgent need to install computers and link ministries that the IT age has passed by.

Sujata has also waded into controversy – creating a storm as Nepal readies for elections in April which will elect a body that will rewrite the constitution and most likely abolish the monarchy. ‘I am very vocal ... say what I think,’ she admits.

This has seen her appear to disagree with Congress policy on the major issues – the fate of the monarchy and a federal republican future. Sujata dismisses the row saying politicians have to air the options and that she just gave her personal views, not those of the party. ‘We should give power to the people rather than the federal system,’ she says.

Sujata also feels a ‘cultural monarch’ – although not the current unpopular King Gyanendra – could suit Nepal with its distinct Hindu-dominated culture. As to her own future, she is less outspoken.

Congress leaders ‘should not feel threatened by me. I am very much willing to cooperate and work together with them.’

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