Prachanda meets Koirala as Maoists gain majority

April 13th, 2008 - 10:04 pm ICT by admin  

(Night Lead)
By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, April 13 (IANS) As reports of fresh Maoist conquests started pouring in and the former guerrillas were headed for majority in Nepal’s crucial constituent assembly election, rebel supremo Prachanda met Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala in the capital Sunday to discuss the future of the coalition government. As Nepal celebrated the dawn of its new year, a change in the leadership of the former Himalayan kingdom was in the offing with its former Maoist guerrillas, once hiding in jungles and hunted down by the army, poised for a landslide victory, having captured 64 of the 118 seats declared so far and leading in other constituencies.

Prachanda, an agriculture graduate who left his job as a school teacher in a village and groomed an army of revolutionaries with the dream of ousting the monarchy, was on the verge of seeing his dream come true with a Maoist wave sweeping the Himalayan nation that was yearning for peace after a decade of civil war and severe political instability.

The stunning victory of the once underground party mocked poll predictions and signalled the end of the road for King Gyanendra, who jeopardised his forefather’s throne by trying to step out of constitutional monarchy and revive absolute reign.

It was a convincing triumph for the Maoists with the capital, the heartland of Nepal’s aristocracy who supported royalty, voting for them and Prachanda himself winning with a thumping majority from both Kathmandu and Rolpa, the cradle of the insurgency.

The public disenchantment with Koirala’s government was evident. While all the Maoist ministers won, ministers from Koirala’s Nepali Congress (NC) and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxists Leninist (UML) were humbled by first-time Maoist contestants.

Though the NC prevailed in six seats in the capital, its stalwarts were biting the dust nationwide.

Koirala’s home district Morang was swamped by a Maoist wave while his daughter Sujata, minister without portfolio in the prime minister’s office, was a poor third in her Sunsari constituency in the volatile Terai plains.

It was also a moment of grim reckoning for the UML, which paid dearly for its weathercock politics, siding now with the king and now with the Maoists.

UML chief Madhav Kumar Nepal was forced to resign after being thrashed in Kathmandu by a little known Maoist rival, Jhakku Prasad Subedi. Nepal also lost in his second constituency Rautahat in the plains, the scene of one of the worst ethnic violence last year.

Though Prachanda pledged to work with all the parties and retain the coalition government till a new constitution was written, Nepal said his party should quit the government on moral grounds.

Routed from the capital and smarting under a humiliating defeat, the UML began mulling quitting the coalition government.

The UML standing committee began discussing its future strategy.

If the UML exits from the government, it is likely to trigger a Nepali Congress pullout as well.

As King Gyanendra’s five-year gamble to take up the reins of his kingdom and smash the Maoist guerrillas with the help of the army finally recoiled on his own head, the embattled king accepted the writing on the wall that his foes had prevailed.

The 61-year-old king, whose rise and fall was reminiscent of a Greek tragedy, Sunday issued from the royal palace what could be his last message as king, accepting the verdict of the people with grace.

“Beloved countrymen,” the message on the occasion of the new Nepali year said, “we extend best wishes for peace, good health and prosperity of all Nepalis, living in the country and abroad.”

The king, who had adopted silence after the fall of his 14-month government due to a national uprising in April 2006, issued a message in a surprise move last week, urging the nation to vote freely and fearlessly in Thursday’s election.

As over 60 percent of the 17.6 million voters heeded his advice and gave the thumbs-down to him and his followers, the king accepted the decision without ado

“The enthusiastic participation of the Nepalese people in the Constituent Assembly elections, through which they have emphatically reiterated their firm resolve not to compromise the nation’s existence, independence and integrity under any circumstance is a source of satisfaction for us,” the royal message said.

“Along with peace and democracy, may the New Year inspire us all to uphold our legendary wisdom in ensuring that our national pride, its distinctive values and identity remain uppermost,” it added.

A day before the statement, former US president Jimmy Carter, who had met Prachanda, indicated that the end of Nepal’s controversial Shah dynasty of kings was close.

The Nobel laureate, who had monitored Thursday’s election, said he had broached the issue of monarchy with Nepal’s political leaders and found them sharing a “common opinion” that the king would no longer play a substantial role in the political process. However, the royals were free to stay in the country as distinguished citizens.

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