Whether you admired Girija Prasad Koirala or not, you had to admit that he had stature for beyond the rest of Nepal’s political leaders. Without him, Nepal’s peace process, already struggling, will be rudderless and is in danger of collapse.
Koirala declined to run for office in Nepal’s spring 2008 election but remained president of the Nepali Congress party until his death Saturday. He dominated the party thoroughly (See “Showdown in the Nepali Congress Party) ,” Newsblaze, and remained Nepal’s major political figure.
Koirala entered politics in 1948, was imprisoned for almost seven years and then exiled for a further 12 years in India for his advocacy of democracy in Nepal. He was active in both of Nepal’s popular democratic uprisings, the 1990 movement that forced King Birendra to end the Panchayat system and the 2006 uprising that ousted King Gyanendra and restored parliament.
He was Nepal’s Prime Minister four times between 1991 and 2008 and most recently chaired the High Level Political Mechanism, a council that sought to break the deadlock in Nepali politics that has existed since the fall of the Maoist-leg government in May 2009. Many Nepalis had seen the HLPM as Nepal’s best and perhaps last chance to fulfill the promise of peace and prosperity offered by the end of the Maoist civil war.
While roundly criticized throughout his career and, at times, compared unfavorably with his brother B.P. Koirala, Nepal’s first elected Prime Minister, his presence towered over rivals within his party and other Nepali politicians. Earlier this year he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by party loyalists, a move that provoked widespread criticism due to allegations of corruption and his acknowledged role in counterfeiting and a 1973 hijacking during the struggle against Nepal’s monarchy.
Since the 2008 elections, Koirala had concentrated on two goals to cement his legacy in Nepal, completing the peace process with the Maoists and strengthening the hand of his daughter, Sujata Koirala, so that she could succeed him as leader of the Congress party. Both of those goals now appear in jeopardy.
John Child is The NewsBlaze Nepal Correspondent, a journalist in Kathmandu who writes about goings-on in and around Nepal and her neighbors.