Kathmandu: After 25 years underground and a decade of armed struggle across Nepal’s jungles and hills, Maoist leader Prachanda has finally savoured victory at the ballot box.
His Maoist party was emerging at the weekend as the surprise single biggest victors in early results of landmark elections to rebuild the Himalayan nation after a bloody civil war.
Changed role: Maoist party leader Prachanda in Kathmandu after being declared winner.
Prachanda, who signed up to peace and embraced democracy in 2006, has had trouble shaking off his image of being a ruthless warlord. But on Saturday, the former guerrilla, whose nom de guerre means the “fierce one,” reaffirmed his commitment to democracy.
“I thank all Nepalese people for giving us the responsibility to make a new Nepal. I will remain fully committed to the peace process and multi-party democracy,” said Prachanda, who scored a landslide win in his Kathmandu constituency.
Prachanda, a former teacher, has said he wants to be the first president of a republican Nepal “if the masses want to give me the responsibility.”
The elections marked the climax of a peace pact that ended the landlocked, impoverished nation’s 10-year civil war. The polls were held for an assembly that will rewrite Nepal’s constitution. The Maoists had hoped to score well so they could push forward on abolishing the monarchy and demolishing what they see as the country’s “feudal” system.
The party’s strong showing in the counting for the 240 seats which is underway (out of the 601-member assembly), was a surprise to analysts who had expected the Maoists to fare poorly. “What we can be fairly certain about is that the Maoists have a strong chance of emerging as the single largest party,” said Nepali Times political columnist and analyst Prashant Jha.
The Maoists’ transition from feared guerrillas to a mainstream party has not been smooth, and they came in for a barrage of criticism for their conduct in the poll build-up, accused of using threats and violence to intimidate voters.
The US continues to list the group as an international terrorist organization responsible for deadly attacks and executions during the revolt that claimed at least 13,000 lives and ended with a November 2006 peace deal. The rebel leader initially aimed to make Nepal into a communist republic, but now he has tempered those demands and says he is willing to work within a multiparty system.
“We are committed to working with other political parties...to make the new constitution that will chart a new course for Nepal,” Prachanda said after he swept his Kathmandu constituency.
Born into a high caste but poor farming family 52 years ago, Prachanda — whose real name is Pushpa Kamal Dahal — was a “brilliant” school student and gained a degree in agriculture. But the extreme poverty he witnessed in rural Nepal spurred an interest in politics and he moved politically to the left. Married with three children, his interest grew in communist groups that emerged in the country in the late 1960s after the father of the current king Gyanendra banned political parties.
The chaotic Cultural Revolution in neighbouring China inspired him, as did Peru’s Shining Path Guerrillas, who also took their inspiration from the revolutionary theories of Chinese communist leader Mao Zedong. He went underground and, although he never fought in combat himself, became chief military strategist of a group of rebels committed to a “Marxism-Leninism-Maoism” ideology.
From a rag-tag collection of a few dozen fighters with homemade weapons, Prachanda built up a fearsome force that took control of large swathes of the Nepalese countryside. Now though he says he relishes his new incarnation as a politician.
“I feel it’s a new life and a new situation. Everything looks different than at the time of the conflict — really fantastic,” he said on the campaign trail.