Nepal's biggest party to ditch monarchy in polls

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KATHMANDU, Sep 26 (Reuters) Nepal's biggest political party today endorsed a plan to declare the Himalayan kingdom a republic ahead of elections this year, party officials said, virtually sealing the fate of the monarchy.

Elections for a special assembly to draft a new constitution and decide whether to retain the unpopular monarchy or turn the nation into a republic are set for Nov 22.

''The general convention of the party formally approved the political resolution and our election manifesto which promises to turn Nepal into a federal republic,'' said Ram Chandra Poudel, a senior leader of the centrist Nepali Congress party.

''This means we will not support the monarchy any more,'' Poudel, who is also peace and reconstruction minister, said.

But former prime minister Krishna Prasad Bhattarai, the founding member of the Nepali Congress, quit the party calling the decision a mistake.

The Nepali Congress move came a week after the Maoist former rebels quit the ruling coalition demanding the country be declared a republic immediately. They have also vowed to disrupt the vote.

Earlier, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala said the Maoists feared losing the election and even his party had lost support in the country's southern plains bordering India.

But analysts said his party's decision to ditch the monarchy was a political gain for the Maoists.

''It is an ideological victory for the Maoists as the Nepali Congress will now be seen as the youngest party joining the republic bandwagon with the Maoists in the driving seat,'' Yubaraj Ghimire, editor of the Nepali news magazine, Samay, said.

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 election, 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 PD HT2302

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