Nepal's Maoists staked their claim on Thursday to lead the troubled country's next government, a day after the prime minister resigned under intense pressure from the former rebels.
The Maoists, who waged a bloody 10-year insurgency against the state before entering mainstream politics and winning 2008 elections, say that as the largest party in parliament they should be at the helm of a new government.
"We have decided we will try to garner support from the other parties for a government of national unity led by us," party spokesman Dinanath Sharma said after a meeting of senior Maoist leaders on Thursday.
Outgoing prime minister Madhav Kumar Nepal tendered his resignation to the president late Wednesday after a live television address in which he said he wanted to end a long political stalemate.
His 13-month term in office was marred by a series of power struggles with the Maoists, who have lobbied aggressively for a return to power since their government fell in May 2009 after a row with the president.
He has agreed to stay on in a caretaker role until a replacement is selected, and Nepal's President Ram Baran Yadav will, on Thursday, formally ask the main parties to form a power-sharing government.
Political commentators warned that failure to form a new government swiftly could prove disastrous for the troubled nation. "There will be chaos. All the government's plans and policies will be affected and it will hit the peace process and constitution drafting," said Kiran Nepal, editor of the fortnightly magazine Himal Khabarpatrika.
Nepal's 601-member parliament, or Constituent Assembly, was elected in 2008 with a two-year mandate to complete a peace process that began when the civil war ended in 2006 and draft a new national constitution.
But it failed to complete either task on time, hampered by fierce disagreements between the Maoists and their political rivals.
Its term had been due to end on May 28, leaving the country without a functioning legislature, but lawmakers voted to extend it for another year to allow them time to complete the constitution.