Former premier leads Nepal to bypoll voting

April 10th, 2009 - 3:22 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, April 10 (IANS) The architect of Nepal’s peace process and former prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala led the voting Friday as the Himalayan republic held its first bypoll to elect lawmakers to six seats in five constituencies.
The 84-year-old Koirala defied the scorching heat of the plains and pre-poll violence in his home town Biratnagar to be among the first voters in Morang district, where his nephew Shekhar Koirala is battling regional party Madhesi Janadhikar Forum.

The bypolls will give the public verdict on the performance of the parties after last year’s historic election and strengthen democracy in Nepal, the dour Koirala told waiting journalists.

A total of 444,000 voters will choose new lawmakers out of 139 contestants, which include only 10 women.

Five of the seats fell vacant after five political heavyweights, who won from two constituencies each in the April 2008 elections, vacated them.

They include Nepal’s first Maoist Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal `Prachanda’, who has relinquished his second seat in Rolpa district, regarded as the cradle of the Maoist movement that succeeded in ending Nepal’s 239-year-old line of kings.

The others are former PM Sher Bahadur Deuba and three current ministers.

The sixth seat was vacated by Koirala’s party man Ram Baran Yadav, who became republic Nepal’s first president.

Large turnouts were reported at the polling booths where voters are using electronic voting machines gifted by neighbour India. Reports said the process was peaceful despite the abduction of a communist candidate from Dhanusha district, Yadav’s home constituency.

Santosh Shah was abducted by an armed group, the Terai National Liberation Army, from Janakpur town in Dhanusha Thursday. He is yet to be traced despite a massive manhunt by police and appeals by the Election Commission as well as his party, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist, for his release.

Besides Koirala’s nephew, who lost the election last year, another heavyweight kin is also in the fray.

The president’s son, Chandra Mohan Yadav, a radiologist at Kathmandu’s Bir Hospital, quit his profession to take the plunge in politics.

Voting will continue till 5 p.m. with the results to be declared by Sunday.

The bypolls will be an acid test for the ruling Maoist party, whose popularity has been falling since it swept the last polls and formed the government.

Though their pledge to lay down the gun won them votes, now there are growing doubts about the former guerrillas’ commitment to peace and ability to control their cadres, who have been running amok, attacking opponents and even allies.

The Prachanda government also faces growing hostility from its own coalition partner, the communists, and a crippling power crisis that has forced hundreds of industries to close and the economy to reel.

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