Nepal's Maoists agree to join assembly, ending impasse
In this photograph taken on November 15, 2013, Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, also known as Prachanda, waves to supporters during an election campaign rally in Kathmandu
A senior leader said the Maoists, who took power at the ballot box after a decade-long civil war but were routed in last month's election for a new assembly, would join the body after other political parties promised to probe their claims of vote-rigging.
"We have agreed to join the assembly and help draft a constitution," senior Maoist official Narayan Kaji Shrestha told AFP.
The assembly will act as a parliament as well as drafting a new charter.
The Maoists threw the country into renewed turmoil when they claimed fraud in the November 19 elections, which were seen as key to completing a peace process after the war that killed 16,000 ended in 2006.
The former rebels swept the first post-war elections in 2008, toppling the 240-year-old Hindu monarchy and transforming the kingdom into a secular republic.
But impoverished Nepal has been in disarray since then, with a string of coalition governments squabbling and failing to write a constitution. The first assembly eventually collapsed in 2012.
The Maoists -- including rebel-leader-turned-politician Pushpa Kamal Dahal, better known as Prachanda -- have faced criticism over their apparent lavish lifestyles, a stark contrast to their revolutionary ideals.
At the November polls, the former guerrillas won just 80 out of 575 seats and came a distant third behind the Nepali Congress and Unified Marxist-Leninist (UML) parties.
Prachanda demanded a halt to vote-counting and claimed fraud after results showed him losing his Kathmandu constituency, where he eventually came a distant third.
But the Maoists on Tuesday signed a deal forged with the other parties to join the assembly, after a clause on the promised probe was included.
Senior Maoist leader Shrestha said they signed the agreement "for the sake of the peace process".
"If each party remains adamant on its position, then how can we reach a deal?" he said. "Our focus now is on delivering the constitution within a year."
Ram Chandra Paudel, a senior leader from the Nepali Congress which is expected to lead the new government, told reporters: "This agreement has made us all very happy."
"This is the first step towards drafting the constitution," Paudel said.
International observers have expressed concern at the impact of the prolonged turmoil on Nepal, which relies on tourism, remittances and aid, and where annual economic growth has slumped to 4.6 percent.
Inflation remains in the double digits, forcing hundreds of thousands of Nepalis to migrate overseas for jobs.
Lokraj Baral, executive chairman of the Kathmandu-based Nepal Centre for Contemporary Studies, said the parties had to settle for "a compromise formula".
"They have no other option -- the Maoists have had to reconcile themselves to their electoral losses," Baral told AFP.
"At the same time, the Nepali Congress and UML have realised that if they draft the constitution without taking the Maoists on board, it will lead to very polarised politics."
As well as the investigation, the agreement includes a provision to conduct negotiations on constitutional matters via a cross-party committee, which will operate independently of the assembly.
The deal also calls for parties to set up a truth and reconciliation commission to investigate atrocities by state forces and rebels during the civil war.
Political commentator Bishnu Sapkota expressed scepticism at the deal, saying "in the past, leaders have agreed to resolve many contentious issues but they haven't fulfilled those commitments".
"The points raised in the new agreement are all good points but the problem begins when every party wants to implement it on their own terms," Sapkota told AFP.
"I think the Maoists agreed to this deal for the sake of face-saving."
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