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Nepal's Maoists heading to victory in key election PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 14 April 2008

REUTERS, KATHMANDU - Nepal's Maoists were marching to victory in the Himalayan nation's first election in nine years, latest tallies showed on Sunday, a result almost nobody had expected.

Maoist supporters cheer the victory of their leaders in Kathmandu April 12, 2008. Nepal's Maoists were marching to victory in the Himalayan nation's first election in nine years, latest tallies showed on Sunday, a result almost nobody had expected. The Maoists, who ended an insurgency two years ago and entered electoral politics, had won 44 of the 81 seats declared so far and were also leading by a similar proportion in other constituencies where counting was continuing, election officials said.

Two other parties -- the Communist UML and the Nepali Congress -- earlier thought to be favourites have so far won only 15 and 14 seats respectively.

The Maoists were also doing better than expected in the country's southern plains, home to nearly half of the population, an area where they were thought to be weak, latest tallies showed.

Two ethnic Madheshi parties, who organised a crippling strike this year demanding autonomy for the region called the Terai, have jointly won seven seats so far.

The outcome of Thursday's election, the centrepiece of the peace deal, has surprised many analysts who had predicted the former rebels would emerge as the third largest party.

"It has come as a bang," said Lok Raj Baral of Nepal Centre for Strategic Studies, a private think-tank. "It is possible that they will win a majority." Baral said the results were a mandate for a change from the ineffective old political order.

The Maoists, on the other hand, had maintained their network at the grass-root level from their days as rebel fighters, he said. POISED FOR LANDSLIDE? Others said even if the Maoists were not able to clinch a majority they were clearly heading towards becoming the single largest party.

They controlled 84 seats in the 329-member interim parliament after they abandoned the insurgency. "Maoists poised for landslide win," declared a headline in the Himalayan Times daily. Complete results are expected around April 20 at the earliest as counting is slow and the election was a complex mixture of direct and proportional systems.

Nepal voted for 601-member assembly, meant to write a new constitution for the impoverished Himalayan nation, formally end a 240-year-old monarchy, and make laws.

While 240 seats will be filled on a first-past-the-post basis, another 335 will be decided by proportional representation and 26 nominated by the cabinet. The Maoists, once considered close to Peru's Shining Path guerrillas, now have abandoned the language of Marx and Mao. They have not called for nationalisation and say foreign investment is welcome in some sectors of the economy. They also favour land reform and social efforts to eradicate poverty.

"We urge every one not to doubt our commitment to multi-party competition," said Maoist chief Prachanda, after being declared a winner on Saturday.

The United States still considers the Maoists as terrorists. The result will also be hard to stomach for giant neighbour India, which is worried it may encourage its own Maoist insurgency, and Nepal's conservative army which had been resisting absorbing Maoist fighters into its ranks.

The election, and the abolition of the monarchy, had been the main demands of the Maoists during their decade-long insurgency, in which more than 13,000 people died. Some analysts said the Maoists and mainstream political parties had set "peace, democracy and economic prosperity" as common post-conflict agenda for one of the world's poorest countries.

"The people have recognised the Maoists as main agents for these goals," said Yubaraj Ghimire, editor of the news magazine, Samay. King Gyanendra, who stands to lose the most from the vote, also said he was satisfied with the "enthusiastic" participation of the voters.

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