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Nepal Maoists to hold first post-war convention

KATHMANDU, (AFP): Nepal’s former rebel Maoist movement will gather on Saturday for its biggest show of strength since it took up arms in a 10-year insurgency against the state and was swept to power after a

peace deal.

Some 3,000 delegates from across the Himalayan nation will attend the five-day general convention in a bid to shore up grassroots support amid widespread despondency since the toppling of the world’s last Hindu monarchy in 2008.

The party is expected to cement its commitment to democracy even though it failed to deliver on its promise to hold elections last November.

“We are sure that we won’t initiate a people’s war again. The convention will focus on the preservation of past achievements such as republicanism, secularism and complete the remaining tasks including the promulgation of an inclusive constitution and federalism,” Maoist spokesman Hitaraj Pandey said.

The last convention was held in 1992 in Chitwan, an overwhelmingly peasant district. But in an indicator of its increasingly urban support base, it is being held this time in the southern industrial town of Hetauda.

An estimated 16,000 people died in the 1996-2006 conflict fought by the Maoists against the monarchy, which was deposed when the rebels turned to mainstream politics and took power in elections.

They now lead Nepal as the major partner in a shaky caretaker coalition which has had little power to make fundamental policy decisions since parliament was dissolved last May.

Analysts say the convention will consolidate the power of Pushpa Kamal Dahal, the party’s charismatic chairman who is still known by his nom-de-guerre Prachanda, Nepali for “the fierce one”.

It is also likely to clarify his at times fractious relationship with his two vice-chairmen, Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai and Narayan Kaji Shrestha, a deputy prime minister.

“Bhattarai might have used state machinery to gain power but after the convention Prachanda is likely to come out stronger and consolidate his hold within the party,” said Mumaram Khanal, a former Maoist leader turned political commentator.

Khanal said the Maoists would try to show they have transformed into a mainstream democratic force in order to placate critics who say they still cling to authoritarian attitudes.

Infighting, including a split in the party last year, has confounded efforts to draw up a post-conflict constitution spelling out how Nepal should be run. An interim assembly elected for the task was dissolved in May. Without a popular mandate, the Maoists have been confined to the role of caretaker administration, presiding over only essential government functions.

Frustration has been growing at the lack of growth in one of the world’s poorest economies and street protests have become a common sight in Kathmandu.

Bhattarai had called for November polls, but the election commission insisted the lack of a constitution meant there were no legal provisions for the vote and a revised target of May look likely to hit the same stumbling block.

Another aim of the convention will be to ensure the support of a generation of idealistic former soldiers who brought revolution to Nepal but who now believe that their metropolitan leaders have abandoned the party faithful.

Among many of the grassroots supporters struggling to rejoin civilian life after the war, there is a sense of betrayal that their sacrifices have been forgotten.

This growing distrust was fuelled in January last year when it emerged Prachanda had moved into a lavish townhouse in Kathmandu, which he has since said he intends to give up.

In July dozens of former combatants accused the leadership of embezzling government grants which were meant for their rehabilitation.

The Maoists held a nationwide conference during the war and have staged numerous extended meetings since joining mainstream politics but their last general convention, encompassing the whole party, was in 1992.

Published Date: Thursday, January 31st, 2013 | 07:32 PM

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