Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Nepal's Maoists seek government allies after poll win

Nepal's Maoists seek government allies after poll win

KATHMANDU (AFP) — Nepal's ex-rebel Maoists were working to form a coalition government with their defeated rivals on Wednesday following victory in landmark elections as vote counting neared completion.

"We will lead the government, there is not doubt about that, but we want other parties to join us in the government," senior Maoist leader Dinanath Sharma told AFP.

The Maoists are comfortably ahead in the vote for a 601-member constituent assembly, whose first job will be to abolish the 240-year-old monarchy.

With counting expected to finish late Wednesday, the Maoists have already won 120 seats of 240 up for grabs in the first-past-the-post part of the election.

Another 335 seats will be chosen by proportional representation, under which the Maoists have garnered around 30 per cent of the vote, or more than 100 more seats, according to poll officials.

Their nearest rivals, the Nepali Congress (NC), have won just 37 seats in the first-past-the-post system, and look set to gain around 74 more from proportional representation.

"By Wednesday evening, we will get the results of all the votes in proportional representation but we might declare the final numbers on Thursday," election commission spokesman Laxman Bhattarai told AFP.

The Congress and Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist, or CPN UML) have unexpectedly lost their domination of Nepal's politics. Both are now considering whether to join the coalition government.

"We have asked them to join us, but there are factions within both the NC and UML who are against it," said senior Maoist Sharma.

The polls were a central strand of the 2006 peace deal reached between the former insurgents and mainstream parties after 10 years of civil war that left at least 13,000 people dead.

The fate of King Gyanendra looks sealed following the victory of the ultra-republican Maoists, who launched a "people's war" aimed at toppling the monarchy in 1996.

The Maoists have urged the king to step down "gracefully" instead of being forced out when the constituent assembly sits in the coming weeks to formally abolish his dynasty, declare the country a republic and rewrite the constitution.

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