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Updated: August 17, 1999 05:00 PM GMT
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A Muslim has been elected chairperson of the upper house of parliament in the Hindu kingdom of Nepal.

Mohammad Mohsin, a sociology scholar, won the chairmanship of the Rastriya Sabha (national assembly) Aug. 12 with 30 of the 60 assembly members voting for him and 29 against. The vice chairman only votes in a tie.

The first Muslim to chair the upper house and to gain a seat on the Constitutional Council is one of the three members of the Rastriya Prajatantra (national freedom) Party in the 60-member body.

Some Christians expressed hope that Mohsin would better understand the problems of religious minorities in this officially Hindu country or at least "more readily" attend Christian functions when invited."

Mohsin was a minister during the "party-less" Panchayat government before the establishment of multiparty democracy in 1990.

He also served as chairman of the joint parliamentary committee formed after the 1997 local elections to probe into irregularities and shortcomings of the electoral process.

His victory in the race for the upper house chairmanship came after a last-minute decision by the 17-seat main opposition Communist Party of Nepal-United Marxists Leninists (CPN-UML) party to allocate some of its votes in his favor.

The candidate of the ruling Nepali Congress party and an appointed assembly member whose candidacy was backed by eight of the other nine appointed members and the two communist parties each failed by a single vote to win the post in voting last month.

The CPN-UML explained that it gave Mohsin enough votes to win in this round to prevent the Nepali Congress candidate from winning with the support of Mohsin´s party had Mohsin failed.

Rabindra Khanal, political science lecturer at Kathmandu´s Tribhuwan University, told UCA News that Mohsin´s official term would be six years.

The political analyst added that the Constitutional Council is one of the several councils in parliament and its function is to suggest constitutional changes to be forwarded to the king.

Statistics say that the Muslim population in Nepal rose from 2.5 percent in 1950 to 3.8 percent in 1991.

Observers say the figure could now be more than 5 percent of Nepal´s 22 million people due to migration across the open border with India.

Some southern towns like Nepalgunj and Lumbini, birthplace of Buddha, are currently Muslim majority areas.

Muslims are known to play active roles in government and in the medical and legal professions in Nepal.


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