Maoist Victory in Nepal Spells End for 240-year-old Monarchy

Maoist Victory in Nepal Spells End for 240-year-old Monarchy

Nepal''s former Maoist rebels emerged today triumphant as the largest party in the country''s new parliament, and signaled they would work with the traditional politicians who have been routed.

The Maoist Communist Party of Nepal will end up with a shade fewer than 220 seats in the 601-member assembly, winning half the 240 constituencies and a third of the 335 seats allocated under proportional representation.

The new cabinet in the Himalayan country will nominate a further 26 members of the assembly, which will rewrite a new Nepali constitution and end the 240-year-old monarchy.

The two traditional parties, the Nepali Congress (NC) party, which currently heads the ruling coalition, and the mainstream communists, known as the UML (Unified Marxist-Leninist), will each have 100 seats.

The Maoists'' stunning electoral success appears to be founded on its clever use of identity politics â?quot; as well as a campaign of thuggish intimidation.

Analysts say that the former rebels managed to directly elect 21 women, compared to the one female assembly member elected by the Nepali Congress.

"The dalits (untouchables) of Nepal voted solidly for them. That is 14% of the population. These people have been outcasts in Nepali society for decades and finally they felt they could teach the older parties who were seen as corrupt a lesson," said C K Lal, a prominent columnist.

"In a number of ways [Maoists] have shown themselves to be much more inclusive."

The party''s chairman, a charismatic former guerrilla known as Pushpa Kamal Dahal on the ballot paper or Prachanda to the rest of Nepal, is likely to become the country''s next prime minister.

Although the Maoists will be dominant, they cannot rule alone â?quot; and talks have begun to bring in the established parties into government.

The Maoist leadership met with the country''s business community today to assuage fears that it would not be embarking on a program of nationalization. It also appears to be quietly shelving its election pledge to abolish Gurkha recruitment in the British and Indian armies.

There are 3,500 Gurkha soldiers in the British army, which recruits 250 men a year from villages in Nepal. The Maoist manifesto describes Gurkha soldiers fighting under a foreign flag as "mercenaries".

"[It] was in the manifesto but the immediate concern is forming a government. We have other things to do," said Dinath Sharma, a spokesman for the Maoist party.

More important is the end of the monarchy and also integrating the 25,000 members of the People''s Liberation Army into Nepal''s armed forces. Who gets the defence portfolio will be a key question for the Maoist leadership.

In a sign of how the Maoists are positioning themselves as champions of social justice in the poverty-stricken country, their student wing took to the streets to demand free education until the age of 15.

"What the Maoists want is control of health, education, control of village development. The stuff that has immediate impact on ordinary people," said one diplomat in Kathmandu. "They want to show that they can manage a peaceful transition, end up as revolutionaries in the land of Buddha. But how long it lasts, who knows?"