Maoist leader Prachanda to contest Nepal PM election

KATHMANDU  - The head of Nepal's former rebel Maoists, who led a campaign of armed struggle for a decade, announced Thursday he would stand in elections to become the country's first post-royal prime minister. Nepal has been in political limbo since the country's 240-year-old monarchy was abolished in late May, with the former guerrillas and mainstream political parties unable to agree who will run the new government. "The months of political deadlock have come to an end," Maoist leader Prachanda told reporters after filing his candidacy for the prime ministerial election set for Friday. The Maoists, once feared rebels, are now Nepal's most potent political force after winning just over one-third of the seats in the body that abolished the monarchy and is supposed to draft a new constitution. In Friday's election, the winner needs a simple majority of the votes from 595 lawmakers, or at least 298. The Maoists have forged an alliance with Nepal's third biggest party - the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) - meaning Prachanda has an excellent shot at winning the post. "We have won the support of the UML. Now we will have a two-thirds majority to run the government," said Prachanda, whose nom-de-guerre means "the fierce one." The Maoists have 227 seats in the assembly, while the UML has 108. Prachanda, who signed up to a landmark peace deal with the country's mainstream parties in 2006, has had trouble shaking off his ruthless warlord image. But many believe he is now the right man to rebuild the impoverished Himalayan country wedged between India and China after the deadly 10-year-long civil war that ravaged the country's economy. The only opposition to Prachanda will come from Nepal's oldest and second biggest party, the Nepali Congress. Congress, led by the current prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala, will field a candidate on Friday and will not participate in the new government if they are defeated, their spokesman said. "There is no question of joining the Maoist-led government if our candidate suffers defeat," the spokesman, Arjun Narsingh Khatri Chettri, told AFP. "We will stay in the opposition and play a constructive role so that the peace process remains on track." The Maoists signed the 2006 peace deal after former king Gyanendra was forced to end a period of authoritarian rule in the face of massive protests. Koirala, 84, has been at the centre of the often violent struggle for democracy in Nepal since the 1940s. He led the coalition that forced Gyanendra to stand aside in April 2006 and has been premier ever since.

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