Former rebel Maoists warned on Wednesday they will form a new government in Nepal with or without the help of the mainstream political parties they resoundingly defeated in landmark elections.
The ultra-leftists -- who waged a bloody guerrilla war for a decade before a peace deal was brokered in 2006 -- took twice the number of seats won by their nearest rival in the 601-member body that will chart Nepal's political future.
"We will lead the government as we are the biggest party," spokesman Krishna Bahadur Mahara told AFP on the sidelines of a Maoist central committee meeting in Kathmandu.
"If the other parties don't want to join us in a coalition, we will form the government by ourselves," Mahara said.
Under the timetable laid out in Nepal's interim constitution, the first meeting of the body that is set to abolish the world's last Hindu monarchy in its first session, has to be held before May 26.
Established political parties fared dismally in the elections to the constituent assembly, despite predictions they would win handsomely.
The Maoists took 220 seats, twice as many as the traditionally dominant Nepali Congress (NC), while the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist; CPN UML) won 103.
The Nepali Congress and Communist Party of Nepal are currently holding internal meetings amid deep divisions in their ranks about whether they should join the Maoists in government.
Senior leaders from the Nepali Congress, firm favourites before the shock results, have suggested that the current interim government, led by the architect of the peace process, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, should remain.
Mahara said that those who wanted to retain the status quo were working against the mandate given to the Maoists in the April 10 elections.
"The other parties said they were committed to democracy, but by suggesting they will not join the government and that we should not lead it, they are showing they are not committed to democracy," Mahara told AFP.
The general secretary of the Nepali Congress, Bimalendra Nidhi, said the party had yet to decide whether to join the government, but that the Maoists would not be able to go it alone.
"The Maoists can't form a government unilaterally. It's true they are the largest party, but they still need to gain the confidence of the other parties," Nidhi said.
Koirala has called for the mainstream parties and Maoists to start discussions on forming the new government, but formal talks are yet to begin, Mahara said.
The larger parties will have to work with the former rebels but are having difficulty adjusting to their unexpected trouncing, Krishna Jwala Devkota, editor of the Nepalese daily Naya Patrika, told AFP.
"This is a bargaining phase to try and secure respectable positions in government. It's also a tactic to pressure the Maoists politically," said Devkota.
"Think of it this way: if the NC or CPN (UML) had emerged as the biggest parties, there would not be any question of who would lead the government," he said.
The elections were a central plank of the peace deal between the Maoists and mainstream parties.
The peace pact ended the Maoists' "people's war," launched in 1996, which left at least 13,000 people dead and destroyed an already fragile economy.