More than 60,000 people are attending the five-day 12th general convention of Nepali Congress to find a successor to the five-time prime minister, who was instrumental in ending the decade-long insurgency in 2006.
Nepali Congress acting president Sushil Koirala and former prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba are the main contenders for the post of president which fell vacant following Koirala's death on March 20 aged 85.
Sushil Koirala, who is GP Koirala cousin, maintained the party's unity after the death of the veteran leader despite deep factionalism.
The convention comes amid a political deadlock in the country that is threatening the fragile peace process. Political parties have failed in a series of attempts to elect a new prime minister, more that two months after Madhav Kumar Nepal resigned from the top post on June 30.
Nepali Congress leader Ramchandra Poudyal and Maoist chief Prachanda have contested seven rounds of inconclusive prime ministerial run-offs, even as the Constitution drafting process remains on hold.
The general convention is being held for the first time after the unification of two breakaway factions of the party, and analysts say it is crucial to unifying the party.
Nepal's oldest party had split into two groups – one led by late GP Koirala and the other led by Deuba after the 10th general convention held in Pokhara a decade ago.
Some 3,100 general convention members will elect a new leadership and would set up a new executive body on September 21 -- the final day of the five-day conclave -- after three days of closed door sessions.
The convention is the first after the country turned into a federal republic.
Top leaders of the party including the acting president, vice-president Poudyal, Deuba, general secretary Bimalendra Nidhi and other top leaders addressed the gathering.
Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal, UCPN-Maoist chief Prachanda and senior leaders of other political parties also addressed the meeting.
Leaders from various political parties of India and Sri Lanka were also present. BJP vice president Bhagat Singh Koshiyari, Congress party leader Khadanda Singh and Samajwadi Party's Vijay Pratap along with Sri Lankan Environment Minister Aruna Priyadarshini also spoke on the occasion.
Most of the speakers expressed concern over the failure of the Nepalese political parties to complete the peace process and the framing of a new Constitution. They underlined the need for unity and collaboration among the parties.
Prachanda, who has in the past accused India of "interfering" in the country's internal affairs, said he wanted to begin a new relationship with New Delhi.
He also referred to alleged threats issued by an Indian diplomat to a Maoist lawmaker during the Prime Ministerial Election last month.
However, the Indian embassy has dismissed the report as fabricated.
Prachanda also referred to an attempt to isolate the Maoists, saying the country cannot move forward by isolating the Maoists. The former prime minister said he has withdrawn from the Prime Ministerial race in order to forge a consensus.
The caretaker Prime Minister urged the political parties to be cautious from both regressive and anti-democratic forces as both are detrimental to peace and democracy in the country.
There is a need for greater unity and cooperation among democratic forces at this difficult transitional period, he underlined in his speech.
Poudyal, who has failed to garner a majority in seven rounds of vote in the parliament, said he is ready to quit the race if Prachanda abandons politics of arms and fully commits himself to the peace process.
He asked the Maoists to be sincere towards the peace process and the principles of multi-party democracy.
Reacting to Maoist chief's decision to abandon the race for prime ministerial post, he said we have to test how Prachanda will reach a consensus.
Koirala in his speech asked the Maoists to abandon politics of violence, intimidation and threat. He asked the Maoists to be sincere to the past agreements and return captured property and dissolve its youth wing, the Young Communist League, which is engaged in intimidating people.
"If the Maoists abandon the politics of violence totally, it will ensure forward movement of the peace process and will also pave the way for drafting of a new Constitution that would institutionalise democratic achievements," he said.
Kathmandu: Nepali Congress, the second largest party in the country, on Friday kick-started a five-day convention to elect a successor to late party president GP Koirala, who dominated the country's politics and the party for the last two decades.
First Published: Friday, September 17, 2010, 20:53