Nepal's Maoists demand election investigation, but soften rhetoric

Reuters News
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Posted: Nov 26, 2013 2:57 AM
Nepal's Maoists demand election investigation, but soften rhetoric

By Gopal Sharma

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Nepal's Maoist former rebels, trailing in last week's election, have called for an independent investigation into complaints of vote fraud, but they also signaled willingness to compromise to end political deadlock in the Himalayan nation.

The Maoists, who fought a decade-long civil war before joining the political mainstream in 2006, alleged last week that the elections were rigged, saying ballot boxes had been hidden, stuffed or swapped.

Powerful Maoist leader and former rebel chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal - better known by his nom de guerre Prachanda - had also threatened to boycott the new constituent assembly tasked with drafting a new constitution.

That elusive landmark was a major condition in a peace deal that ended a conflict that claimed more than 16,000 lives.

"Our party wants a high level independent commission to investigate into the widespread conspiracy and fraud," Maoist spokesman Agni Sapkota said in a statement.

"The new constitution should be prepared on the basis of a consensus among political parties ... and even those parties that boycotted the elections should be involved in the making of the charter," Sapkota said.

The marked softening in language, and reference to consensus, pointed to readiness to accept the outcome of the November 19 election, political analysts said.

Some Maoist leaders had already said they did not agree with Prachanda's position and wanted to join parliament.

"There is a good chance they will participate in the constituent assembly, even if it is mainly to safeguard their pet agendas, including federalism," said Deependra Bahadur Kshetry, a former central bank governor and now an analyst.

Kshetry was referring to Maoist demands for federal states in a country with more than 100 ethnic and linguistic groups.

INTENSE LOBBYING

Prachanda's rejection of the poll outcome triggered intense lobbying from former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who was in Nepal to observe the election, as well as by ambassadors from donor countries including the United States and India.

Nepal has languished in political inertia since Maoists laid down arms, with six governments failing to forge a constitution for the new republic that emerged after the war.

Nepal's giant neighbours, India and China, as well as Western donors, are concerned about the prolonged struggle to build a stable nation to replace a centuries-old monarchy.

They fear the poor country of nearly 27 million people, which is dependent on tourism, remittances and aid, risks becoming a haven for militants and criminal gangs.

International observers, including from the European Union, have said the election was held in an "orderly and generally calm atmosphere".

The Maoists, the biggest group in the 601-member assembly in 2008, trailed the centrist Nepali Congress and moderate Communist UML parties in the latest counting, the Election Commission said. Counting could continue into next week.

Prachanda won a seat from southeast Nepal but lost in his old constituency in Kathmandu.

He has faced accusations that he strayed from revolutionary ideals since joining the mainstream, moving from a life in the jungle during the insurgency to a luxury home in Kathmandu.

More than 70 percent of 12 million eligible voters cast ballots, a high turnout that underlined the desire for progress after previous failures to draw up a constitution.

The stalemate has damaged the business climate, slowed economic growth to 3.6 percent and forced an average of 1,600 young and unskilled Nepalis to leave each day for the Middle East, South Korea and Malaysia in search of menial work.

(Reporting by Gopal Sharma; Editing by Mike Collett-White and Robert Birsel)