Elections in November raises hopes for stability in Nepal

KATHMANDU (AFP) - Nepal's announcement of November elections raised hopes for stability in the deeply divided Himalayan nation, but also concerns that the long-awaited polls could still be scuppered, analysts said on Friday.

The caretaker government set the Nov 19 date late on Thursday following months of political deadlock that has hampered the country's recovery after a decade-long civil war.

Former Maoist prime minister Baburam Bhattarai, whose party won the largest share of votes at the last elections held in 2008, welcomed the move.

"Now all political parties should focus on ensuring a free and fair election," Mr Bhattarai said.

But political commentator Tilak Pathak said it was unclear whether all of the major parties would agree to take part, since they were focused on fixing internal party problems, placing the election in jeopardy.

"All major parties are battling with internal factionalism and dissents," Mr Pathak said.

"Although cadres of other parties have recently joined (the) Maoists, its leaders have said that the organisational structure is in shambles," he added.

Nepalese politics has operated in a legislative vacuum since May 2012 when the old parliament was dissolved without producing a constitution, aimed at healing deep divisions over the conflict, amid political disagreements.

Polls were scheduled for June this year but were delayed after the country's main political parties failed to agree on some crucial electoral issues, such as whether to allow candidates with criminal backgrounds to run.

Thursday's breakthrough came after the interim government assured them their concerns would be incorporated into a new amendment on election laws, which has been forwarded to President Ram Baran Yadav for his approval.

But three opposition leaders, representing 42 smaller political groupings, late on Thursday threatened to boycott the polls, saying the interim government had not consulted them before announcing the date.

Newspaper editor Gunaraj Luitel was confident the elections would go ahead, saying ordinary Nepalis were desperate for stability to allow the country to rebuild after the 10-year war.

"Elections will take place no matter what. In the past, we have seen boycotts and oppositions but the government conducted the polls," said Mr Luitel, editor in chief of Nepali language newspaper Annapurna Post.

"This time, the common people are desperate for elections because they hope that it will bring stability and prosperity in the country. People are tired of the politics of boycott."

The United States, one of Nepal's major donors, welcomed the announcement of a date, calling it an "important step".

"Since the dissolution of the previous constituent assembly more than a year ago, we have encouraged the government of Nepal to take this important step," State Department spokesman Jen Psaki told reporters on Thursday.

Nepal's chief justice was appointed in March to head an interim government tasked with steering the country towards elections after a failure to break the deadlock over the constitution.

The November elections will be only the second since the end of the civil war in 2006.

The Election Commission has proposed a 491-member Constituent Assembly and so far 139 parties have applied for registration in the polls.