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Relief, pride in Nepal as counting starts after poll PDF Print E-mail
Saturday, 12 April 2008

REUTERS, KATHMANDU - Porters carried ballot boxes on their backs along mountain paths high in the Himalayas on Friday, to trucks, tractors and helicopters waiting to take them to counting centres after Nepal's first election in nine years.

Women wait for their turn to vote in Jitpur Phedi village near Kathmandu April 10, 2008 On the streets of the capital Kathmandu, relief was mixed with pride, after a historic election passed off in a remarkably peaceful manner on Thursday.

"Thank god it is over," said 36-year-old grocer Brikha Bahadur Thakuri. "No matter who wins I look forward to a period of no strikes, closures and unrest. I hope those days are over."

Nepalis voted enthusiastically for a 601-member special assembly supposed to write a new constitution and usher in a new republic in the Himalayas, ending a 240-year-old Hindu monarchy. The vote was central to a 2006 peace deal with Maoist rebels and marks their transformation into a legitimate political party.

Early results from Kathmandu were issued on Friday, but the Election Commission said the final outcome would take more than 10 days, with reruns called in 33 out of 20,000 polling centres. The assembly will be elected on a mixture of first past the post constituencies and proportional representation.

"Nepal stuns the world, itself," the Kathmandu Post announced in a banner headline. The Nepali Times called it a referendum for peace, justice and development. "Doomsayers" who had predicted an election was impossible had been proved wrong, it said. A candidate and a party worker were killed on election day, and 12 others lost their lives in campaign-related violence.

Much more violence was feared, with armed groups calling for a boycott of the polls in the southern plains bordering India. That appeal was largely ignored. All eyes are now on whether political parties -- and especially the Maoists -- accept the election outcome.

There have been fears that hardline Maoists could split from the party and take to the streets if their party performs poorly. But a Western diplomat told Reuters the enthusiastic voter response and largely peaceful election would make it harder for losers to reject the results.

HOPES RAISED

Nepal's ailing 83-year-old Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala said politicians now had the responsibility to write a new constitution "through mutual understanding and consensus".

Maoist chief Prachanda also praised voters for taking part in a "grand manner" and congratulated them for their "patience, sacrifice and initiative".

The United Nations said the Nepali people had demonstrated their commitment to democracy. "Political parties and their leaders now need to ensure that they accept the people's decision through this election, or where they have challenges in relation to the process to pursue these through the proper legal channels," said Ian Martin, head of the U.N. mission.

Nepali politicians gained a reputation for squabbling and corruption during a decade of democratic rule in the 1990s, before an ill-fated and short-lived power grab by the monarchy. Ordinary Nepalis, living in one of the world's poorest countries, said they hoped things would be better this time.

"We are not asking the government to build palaces for us," said 38-year-old travel agency worker Yagya Pandit. "People need security, electricity, water, petrol and work. What is the use of political leaders if they can't give us these things?"

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