Landslide victory beckons Maoists, end of road for Koirala

April 13th, 2008 - 11:16 am ICT by admin  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, April 13 (IANS) As Nepal Sunday 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 after a crucial election last week. 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 and establishing equality, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who changed his name to Prachanda - meaning awesome - was on the verge of seeing his dream come true with his Maoist party sweeping 42 of the 71 seats declared so far and leading in 57 of the 109 constituencies, where vote counting was in progress.

The stunning victory of a once underground party mocked as terrorists even during the poll campaign and blamed for derailing the election last year also signalled the end of the road for Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, who despite his advanced age and chronic ill health was hoping to lead the government yet again.

It also predicted the end for King Gyanendra, who jeopardised his forefather’s throne by trying to step out of constitutional monarchy and revive absolute reign.

The Maoists, who fought a national election after 17 long years, owed their overwhelming victory to the nation’s yearning for a change in leadership after a succession of corrupt and uncaring governments whose leaders were seen as greedy and squabbling for power.

The emergence of the youth voter, who accounted for nearly 35 percent of the electorate, and an overwhelming participation by women, who accounted for 53 percent of voters, propelled the rebel victory.

It was a convincing triumph with the capital, the heartland of Nepal’s aristocracy, who supported royalty, and the intelligentsia voting against the communists who swept Kathmandu valley in the 1999 general election.

Of the three districts in the valley, the Maoists captured all three seats in the temple town of Lalitpur, while in the capital city Prachanda himself led the onslaught with the conquest of four of the 10 seats.

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 Marxist Leninist (UML) were humbled by first-time Maoist contestants.

Though the NC prevailed in the remaining 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.

Koirala’s cousin Sushil Koirala, who was also deputy chief of the party, resigned after being ousted in Banke district by the Maoists while his nephew Shekhar Koirala, regarded as a key figure during the peace negotiations with the Maoists, was trailing far behind in Morang.

Another Koirala lieutenant, finance minister Ram Sharan Mahat, had lost in Nuwakot to his Maoist contestant from the Tamang community, one of the most disadvantaged classes in Nepal and the worst victims of human trafficking.

The win of maverick NC contender Narhari Acharya from Kathmandu was actually a dressing-down for Koirala. In the past, Acharya had opposed Koirala’s bid to grab party leadership in violation of the party regulation.

It was also a moment of grim reckoning for the UML, who 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 littleknown Maoist rival, Jhakku Prasad Subedi. Nepal was also trailing in his second constituency Rautahat in the plains, the scene of one of the worst ethnic violence last year.

The only ruling party giants who made it were deposed prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, though his dream of being premier again was receding fast, Speaker Subhash Chandra Nembang of the UML, and Peace and Reconstruction Minister Ram Chandra Poudel of the NC.

The constituent assembly election, the first ever in Nepal, saw the emergence of women and the disadvantaged communities, under the aegis of the Maoists.

Prachanda, who won with a thumping majority from Kathmandu in his poll debut and had far outpaced rivals in remote Rolpa district, struck the right note Saturday when in his victory speech, he proposed reconciliation.

“I would like to allay the international community’s fear as to what will happen after a Maoist victory.

“We pledge to work with all the parties, besides the ruling ones and the new ones to write a new constitution,” the rebel chief said.

Prachanda pledged to retain the ruling coalition till the new constitution was written and urged the bureaucracy and security forces, once the Maoists’ b

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