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International Observers Call Nepal Election Credible Despite Violence, Threats


Allegations of intimidation of voters and other problems are tainting an otherwise positive assessment of Nepal's election. Initial results show the former Maoist rebels performing much better than expected in polling that will decide the future of the Himalayan country. VOA correspondent Steve Herman in Kathmandu reports international observers are weighing in with their views following the election.

International election observers in Nepal on Saturday described the historic polling as credible. But their reports note a range of problems from voters being intimidated to young children casting ballots.

The European Union says, so far, the process has passed several international standards.

One of the high-profile observers, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, told a news conference in Kathmandu the election was well-executed.

"From what I've seen so far, with the voting day and the bringing of polling boxes, ballot boxes to the central stations and the beginning of the counting, all of that, I would say, has been free and fair with some minor discrepancies that did not interfere with the ability of the people to make their choices for leadership," he said.

One of the most visible observer groups here, the Asian Network for Free Elections, known as ANFREL, says it is premature to declare Nepal's balloting "free and fair." ANFREL's deputy chief of mission, Damaso Magbual from the Philippines, says any such declaration would have to wait until re-polling is conducted this month in problem areas and all the votes are counted.

"As impartial observers we feel that it may have been flawed in a number of instances, but on the whole, it reflects the will of the people," he said.

ANFREL says all of the major parties engaged in pre-election intimidation, but most incidents were attributed to Maoist cadres.

The former rebels, based on partial results, could emerge as the top party from Thursday's election for a constituent assembly. They are in contention for the top spot with the centrist Nepali Congress Party.

The Maoists have won or are leading in about half of the constituencies whose ballots are being tabulated so far. Local media quote top Maoist leaders predicting they will secure a majority of the 601 seats for the special assembly.

The Maoists waged a protracted civil war against the government, calling for the monarchy to be abolished. The former rebels signed a peace pact in late 2006 and agreed to participate in the democratic process.

The few parties backing Nepal's King Gyanendra have fared poorly.

The constituent assembly, when it finally convenes, is to write a new constitution. But its first act will be to formally declare Nepal a republic, meaning the already sidelined and unpopular monarch has little hope of ever regaining power.

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