Nepal Maoists are afraid of polls - prime minister

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KATHMANDU, Sept 26 (Reuters) Nepal's Maoist former rebels, who quit the government last week, fear losing this year's elections meant to decide the fate of the monarchy, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala said today.

The Maoists, who began fighting the monarchy in 1996, walked out of the interim government and threatened to disrupt the Nov. 22 polls unless the country was declared a republic right away.

They are also insisting that the election be fully based on a proportional representation system in the belief that they could win more seats in the constituent assembly.

''I think the Maoists are afraid of losing the election,'' Koirala said, echoing a view expressed by some analysts.

''Victory or loss is part of the election. If we lose this time we'll win in the next election five years later,'' Koirala told a public ceremony in Kathmandu.

''Not only the Maoists, even the Nepali Congress has lost its support in the Terai,'' Koirala said, referring to his centrist political party, Nepal's largest.

Home to nearly half the country's 26.4 million people, the Terai comprises Nepal's fertile southern plains bordering India and forms a major political constituency.

Scores of people have died in the region this year in protests and violence by the ethnic Madhesi people and by several small rebel groups demanding regional autonomy.

There was no immediate reaction from the ex-rebels to the comments by Koirala, who also said he was trying to bring the Maoists back into the government.

Analysts said a compromise was expected to be reached in back channel discussions.

''They are negotiating on a resolution by parliament on a republic,'' said Kunda Dixit, editor of the Nepali Times weekly.

''The Maoists will also be guaranteed a minimum number of seats in the election.'' Their withdrawal from the government has cast a shadow over the historic elections, Nepal's first national polls since 1999.

The former guerrillas, however, say they will continue to honour last year's ceasefire that ended their civil war which killed more than 13,000 people.

REUTERS JK KN1618

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