Maoists Performing Better than Expected as Nepal Counts Votes

Vote counting is under way in Nepal following the nation's historic constituent assembly election. Officials say preliminary reports indicate a high turnout and a low level of vote manipulation. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Kathmandu has the latest on the process that is expected to formally end more than 200 years of monarchy.

Ballot boxes are being flown by helicopter and hand-carried by porters to counting centers across this remote Himalayan country.

While there were a few incidents of violence, including some casualties, overall it appears that the first election here in nine years occurred with less trouble than predicted.

Aditi Bhaduri of the Asian Network for Free Elections says it is still premature, however, for international observers to render a verdict on the integrity of the election.

"Observers in Kathmandu are observing the counting. But most of our other observers are all coming back and we are having a debriefing about their observations yesterday across the five regions of Nepal. And tomorrow (Saturday) we'll be releasing our initial findings and observation," said Bhaduri.

Initial results show the centrist Nepal Congress Party leading in about half of the districts in the capital. The Maoists, who were expected to do well in many rural areas, are making a better-than-predicted showing in some urban districts.

The Maoists waged a decade-long civil war against the government to rid Nepal of the monarchy and have been in and out of the interim coalition government since signing a 2006 peace accord.

Their strong showing does not worry jewelry merchant Mohan Rajbanshi, who runs a shop inside one of Kathmandu's top hotels.

"They're also educated people and they will, I hope, make a good Nepal," he said.

No one party is expected to be dominant. Regardless of the outcome there is tremendous anticipation here that the election will end years of bloodshed and bring peace to this impoverished nation.

The 601-member special assembly is mandated to write a new constitution. The assembly is expected to formally put an end to the world's last Hindu monarchy, making Nepal a republic.

Nepal is heavily dependent on foreign aid and Japan is the largest donor among foreign countries.

An influential Japanese lawmaker who observed the election, Tadahiko Ito, told reporters Friday that while Nepal should not expect a boost in development assistance from Tokyo, the peaceful election will certainly yield economic dividends.

Ito says political stability will heighten interest about Nepal among Japanese investors.

Re-polling is expected to be needed at several dozen polling booths. Results for most, if not all, seats allocated by the constituency method are set to be announced in about 10 days. Two-thirds of the assembly will be seated through proportional representation and the complex calculation for those slots could take several weeks.


Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

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