Victory rallies begin as Nepal starts counting votes

April 11th, 2008 - 11:34 am ICT by admin  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, April 11 (IANS) Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s Nepali Congress (NC) party, a member of the ruling coalition, had a huge lead in the first seat for which trends were available Friday following Nepal’s historic constituent assembly poll. The counting began Thursday midnight. By Friday morning, when the first trend came in, exultant NC members waved flags and chanted slogans before the tightly guarded Rastriya Sabha, a key counting centre in the capital.

The trend indicated a thumping victory for Prakash Man Singh, a former minister and son of Nepal’s top freedom fighter.

It was a moment of vindication for Singh, former physical planning and works minister, who was arrested during King Gyanendra’s absolute rule, charged with graft in a multi-million dollar drinking water supply scheme funded by the Asian Development Bank and sent to prison along with deposed premier Sher Bahadur Deuba in 2005.

Both the politicians had fought the sentence. When Nepal’s Supreme Court set them free and ordered the king to dissolve the special commission that had charged the leaders, the verdict was regarded as a turning point for the pro-democracy movement in Nepal, signalling the unravelling of the king’s army-backed regime.

Though the result was yet to be announced officially, Singh was several thousand votes ahead of his nearest rival, Sports and Education Minister Pradip Nepal, who belongs to NC’s traditional rival, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist, in Kathmandu Constituency One.

“It is the people’s verdict for democracy and peace,” said NC leader Tirtharam Dhangol as the prime minister’s party readied to bring out the first victory rally after Thursday’s election, that saw over 60 percent people turn up to vote defying fears of violence and an indefinite closure called in the Terai plains by anti-poll armed groups.

In another constituency in the capital, results indicated NC contestant Narhari Acharya was leading the race.

Counting in the prestigious Constituency 10 in the capital from where Maoist chief Prachanda is making his poll debut in a political career spanning three decades was scheduled to start later Friday morning. Prachanda spent nearly two decades underground.

The Maoists, who laid down their guns to fight the battle of the ballot after almost 17 years, were doing surprisingly well in Kathmandu valley despite pre-poll complaints of violence by their militant youth wing, the Young Communist League.

In Constituency Two, their little-known candidate Jhakkuprasad Subedi was leading, although by a very slender margin, over UML’s powerful chief and former deputy prime minister Madhav Kumar Nepal, who is being projected by his party as the next premier.

In Acharya’s constituency, the Maoists were following close behind the NC, ahead of UML candidate and former minister Ishwor Pokhrel.

In Lalitpur Three in Kathmandu’s neighbouring district, Maoist minister for women, children and social welfare Pampa Bhushal was ahead of her UML rival, former minister Raghuji Pant while in Lalitpur Two, Maoist candidate Raj Kaji Maharjan was slightly behind his NC rival Chandra Maharjan.

In the temple town of Bhaktapur, the third key city in Kathmandu valley, the big three were, however, pulled to a halt by one of their smaller coalition partners, the Nepal Workers and Peasants Party (NWPP).

In its traditional bastion, the NWPP’s top leaders Narayan Man Bijukchhe and Sunil Prajapati were leading the race in constituencies One and Two, pursued by the Maoists.

The first results are expected by Friday evening and the position of the parties is expected to become clear in 10 days.

The 601-member constituent assembly that will be elected is expected to replace Nepal’s interim parliament and write a new constitution.

Within 21 days of being elected, the assembly has to hold its first meeting, where it will decide the fate of King Gyanendra and his 239-year-old crown.

Once the world’s only Hindu kingdom, which revered its king as an incarnation of god, Nepal began growing disenchanted with the palace after King Gyanendra ascended the throne in 2001 following a massacre that wiped out the entire family of king Birendra.

Four years after his ascension, the ambitious king sought to consolidate his power by taking over the government with an army-backed bloodless coup.

But his 14-month regime triggered widespread anger and a national uprising in April 2006 forced him to step down.

The new government formed by the opposition parties subsequently stripped him of all his powers and privileges and signed a peace pact with the Maoists, ending the 10-year civil war.

Last year, the Maoists, who are now the second largest party in parliament, forced the house to declare Nepal a republic.

The constituent assembly election is expected to endorse the proclamation at its first meeting, signalling an end to Nepal’s monarchy.

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