Vote count nears close, Nepal politics stirs up
Friday, 25 April 2008

REUTERS, KATHMANDU - Counting of votes in Nepal's key election is expected to end on Thursday, a contest likely to cement the former Maoist rebels as the largest party and give them a chance to lead a minority government.

The election, the centrepiece of a 2006 peace pact which ended a decade-long insurgency, is for a special assembly that will write a new constitution, abolish Nepal's 240-year-old monarchy and make laws.

Election officials said the final tally of seats could be announced late Thursday, but Nepali media said the vote count was complete and the Maoists were likely to bag 220 seats in the 601-member assembly, short of a simple majority The Kathmandu Post daily and Avenues Television station said the traditionally strong Nepali Congress could win 110 seats and Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist) or CPN UML 103 seats. Both are centrist parties.

A regional party from the country's southern Madhesh plains could win 52 seats while the remaining goes to smaller parties, they said. "So far as we are concerned there has been no official announcement of the final results," chief election commissioner Bhojraj Pokharel told Reuters.

"Tabulation of proportional representation votes is on." A complex mix of direct and proportional representation systems, the Maoists have already officially won exactly half of the 240 first-past-the post constituency seats.

Another 335 seats are to be filled by proportional representation, while the new cabinet will nominate the remaining 26 members But with a fair indication of the results already available, the Maoists have begun consultations to cobble a coalition.

Traditional political parties are wary they will be marginalised in a Maoist-led government, analysts say. The Maoists have said the first act of the new assembly would be to abolish the monarchy and establish a republic.

Nepali Congress leaders were holding a meeting on Thursday to decide on joining the government. But some commentators are optimistic a coalition will be formed.

"The question of portfolios may not pose a hindrance to forming a coalition government - the Maoists have shown signs of flexibility," the Himalayan Times said.

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