Nepal’s Maoists extend poll lead
Nepal’s Maoist party has increased its lead as more results are declared from the country’s landmark elections.
April 13, 2008
The former guerrillas have won 40 out of 79 seats declared, well ahead of all other parties, and far more than many analysts had expected.
Partial results suggest a similar lead elsewhere, polling officials said.
The polls, for an assembly tasked with writing a new constitution, are the first to test the Maoists at the ballot box after their 10-year insurgency.
The BBC’s Charles Haviland in Kathmandu says it is not just the fact that the Maoists are ahead that has caused amazement, but the scale of their lead.
The Maoists have so far won more than three times as many seats as the traditionally powerful Nepali Congress, which is currently in third place.
Many key Maoist leaders have won seats, mostly with very large majorities.
Several senior politicians have lost, including the nephew and daughter of Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala and the leader of the traditional second party, the Communist UML, as well as a veteran royalist Prime Minister, Surya Bahadur Thapa, who came third in his seat.
The new assembly is expected to confirm an agreement made in December between the ruling government alliance and former rebels to abolish the 240-year-old monarchy.
The Maoists’ leader, known by his nom-de-guerre, Prachandra, called the results a “victory” as he celebrated his win on Saturday in the capital, Kathmandu.
“We are fully committed to the peace process and multiparty democracy and to rebuild this country,” he said.
Maoist supporters have been holding victory processions, with red vermillion powder smeared on their faces and red hammer-and-sickle flags in their hands.
The election for the 601-seat assembly is a key element in the peace deal that ended the Maoists’ decade-long insurgency.
Although the Maoists have not yet renounced violence, they will almost certainly now have to adjust from being a party of revolt to being a party at the heart of government, our correspondent says.
Many Nepalis say they voted for the former rebels because they want the new faces that the older parties do not offer, or because the Maoists’ actions have, in many cases, raised the wages they earn.
Results for the 240 constituencies chosen by the first-past-the-post system are expected over the next 10 days, although another 335 seats to be elected by proportional representation are not expected to be decided for several weeks.
The interim government is to appoint the remaining 26 seats.
While the Maoists were widely accused of electoral intimidation and threats ahead of the vote, the figures so far make it clear that even without that kind of fear factor, voters are still giving them a huge mandate, our correspondent says.
Nepal held its first polls since 1999 following the Maoists’ decision to end their armed struggle in 2006.
King Gyanendra seized absolute power in 2005 but was forced to give up his authoritarian rule the following year after weeks of pro-democracy protests.
He has since lost all his powers and his command of the army.