After Two Delays, Nepal Holds National Election

Millions of voters in Nepal braved threats of violence and harsh terrain to cast ballots in a historic election to choose a 601-member national assembly that is to write a constitution.  The twice-delayed election is being closely monitored by tens of thousands of domestic and 850 international observers, including former U.S. President Jimmy Carter.  VOA Correspondent Steve Herman is in  and has the story.

Nearly 4,000 candidates from more than 50 parties were on the ballot across Nepal, Thursday.  The election is the latest step in a long and sometimes violent transition from a Himalayan feudal kingdom to a multi-ethnic modern republic, under democratic government.

In the capital, voter Kehav Raj Bajracharya says he was not worried about violence at his polling station in Kathmandu, but he did hear of attacks in other areas.

He says he is happy to vote after a delay of so many years, because the election will uplift ethnic groups that he says have been suppressed.

The balloting to choose a constituent assembly results from a 2006 peace pact between the government and the Maoists, who waged a decade-long war to try to rid Nepal of the monarchy.  The formerly autocratic king remains in place, but he is powerless and a multi-party coalition, which includes the former rebels, now runs the government and has put Nepal onto the path of a democratic republic.

Voter Pushpa Banya cast her ballot, just across the road from one of the Royal Palace gates.

The housewife says Nepal still needs the king, but that hopefully the civilian-run government resulting from the election will be good for the country, when it becomes a republic.

Long lines were reported at many polling stations, reflecting the intense interest in the election.

The most high-profile election observer here, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, tells VOA News the biggest worry now is whether election losers will peacefully accept the peoples' verdict.

"Here, the expectations might be quite high among people that are almost inevitably going to be disappointed," Mr. Carter said. "But we have their prior commitment that they will accept the results, even disappointing, in a peaceful way."

Aside from pre-election violence that saw candidates and partisans killed, the exercise of democracy in harsh terrain is taking its toll in other ways. Some polling officials fell ill with high-altitude sickness or were delayed by heavy snowfall.  Some yak herders, hearing on the radio they should cast their ballots, left their animals in the care of their children and trekked for days to polling stations.

Although preliminary results for some districts are expected to be announced within a day or two, a definitive picture could take weeks to emerge from the 240 constituencies.


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