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Maoist leader eyes Premiership

KATHMANDU, August 15 – After 25 years underground and a decade of armed struggle across Nepal’s jungles and hills, Maoist leader Prachanda appeared poised Friday to become the country’s next prime minister.

Months of political limbo were set to end as lawmakers prepared to vote to elect the premier of the world’s newest republic.

The ex-rebel Maoists won the largest number of seats but fell short of a majority in landmark polls for the body that abolished the monarchy in May.

Wrangling with mainstream parties meant they were unable to form a government and so the decision is being put to a vote of the 595 lawmakers.

"Months of political deadlock have finally come to an end," Prachanda told reporters after filing his candidacy papers to stand in the ballot, which is planned for Friday at 0815 GMT.

The first task of the Maoist-dominated body elected in April was to abolish the monarchy, and after the election of the prime minister it is to rewrite the country’s constitution, a long-held goal of the ultra-leftists.

The Maoists have allied with the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist), the third largest in the assembly, to ensure the success of Prachanda, a school teacher-turned-revolutionary.

"The alliancehas made it certain Prachanda will become prime minister as they’ll easily get the 298 votes needed for a simple majority," said Kundan Aryal, editor of weekly news magazine "Himal."

Born into a high-caste but poor farming family Prachanda, whose real name is Pushpa Kamal Dahal, was driven to politics by the extreme poverty he witnessed in rural Nepal.

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He led the Maoists in a decade-long battle before signing a peace deal with mainstream political parties in 2006, after Nepal’s ex-king Gyanendra was forced to end a period of authoritarian direct rule in the face of massive protests.

The ending of the country’s 240-year-old monarchy was a major victory for the fiercely republican Maoists but their transition from feared guerrillas to a mainstream political force has not been smooth.

Prachanda has had trouble shaking off his ruthless warlord image.

Critics say the Maoists have yet to fully abandon violence and that their feared youth wing, the Young Communist League, must disband to prove they are committed to peaceful democracy.

But the only strong opposition Friday to Prachanda, who until the peace deal was a wanted man with a price on his head, will come from Nepal’s oldest and second biggest party, the Nepali Congress.

Congress, led by current Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, now 84, said it will field a candidate for the election and will not participate in the new government if it is defeated.

"There’s no question of joining a Maoist-led government if our candidate is defeated," Congress spokesman Arjun Narsingh Khatri Chettri told AFP.

"We’ll stay in the opposition and play a constructive role so the peace process remains on track."

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