Nepal concludes historic poll, world hails

April 10th, 2008 - 9:11 pm ICT by admin  

(Night Lead)
By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, April 10 (IANS) Nepal closed its crucial poll hurdle Thursday with over 60 percent voters turning up to cast their vote in the historic constituent assembly election - despite the fear of violence and an indefinite closure call by armed groups in the southern plains. “Nepal has set an example in front of the world,” Chief Election Commissioner Bhoj Raj Pokhrel said as polling ended in 239 constituencies without any major incident of violence.

Pokhrel said the international community was sending in “sweet words” of congratulations at the conduction of the twice-deferred poll that had seen the death of nine people in the last 48 hours, feeding fears of widespread violence on D Day.

Three people, including a contestant, were killed while complaints of clashes between the ruling parties and attacks on poll booths started pouring in at the Election Commission.

Much of the trouble was reported from the Terai plains, which have been Achilles heel for Nepal and caused the cancellation of the poll in the past. Pokhrel said polling had been cancelled in 33 stations.

Shambhu Prasad Singh, who was contesting independently from Sarlahi, was killed by unidentified gunmen. He was the third candidate to die in the run-up to the election.

In Sunsari district, from where Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s daughter Sujata made her poll debut, her Nepali Congress (NC) party clashed with its regional rival, the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum, resulting in the death of an NC activist.

A voter was killed in Mahottari district when he was run over in a stampede induced by firing near the poll station.

The leader of one of the main opposition parties cried foul, saying the troika of Maoists, NC and UML had prevented him from monitoring the booths in his constituency in Sindhupalchowk in north Nepal.

“It is a direct attack on human rights and the freedom of movement,” said Pashupati Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana, who heads the once royalist Rastriya Prajatantra Party.

“It is undemocratic and goes against the spirit of the constituent assembly.”

Pokhrel said the first results would come in Friday while the position of the parties would become clear in 10 days.

“Now democracy has been institutionalised,” octogenarian Prime Minister Koirala said in a terse statement as he opened the polling in the Adarsha High School in his hometown Biratnagar.

The constituent assembly election, Nepal’s first national poll in almost a decade, would determine the fate of marginalised King Gyanendra and give the insurgency-racked nation its first constitution by, for and of the people.

There was unprecedented security for the election with over 60,000 security personnel and over 55,000 temporary staff deployed along with round the clock aerial patrolling to ensure a free and fair election.

The election was watched closely by national as well as international observers due to the emergence of the Maoist guerrillas as a parliamentary party from an underground organisation.

The Maoists, who ended their decade-old “People’s War” in 2006 and signed a ceasefire, faced the battle of the ballot, participating in an election after nearly 17 years.

The charismatic leader of the party, agrarian graduate Pushpa Kamal Dahal who left his profession as a schoolteacher to take up arms and declare war on the powerful royal dynasty, faces an acid test, contesting from the capital as well as Rolpa, the remote mountainous district that gave birth to the Maoist movement.

“The dream of all martyrs has finally come true,” exulted Dahal, now famed as Prachanda, meaning “awesome”, as he cast his vote early Thursday morning from the picturesque district of Chitwan along the Indo-Nepal border famed for its wildlife park.

While 240 seats of the 601-member constituent assembly would be elected on the basis of a direct fight, 335 would be chosen on the basis of proportional representation with the remaining 26 to be nominated by the prime minister.

Within 21 days of the announcement of results, the constituent assembly will have to hold its first meeting and declare if Nepal is to remain a kingdom or become a republic.

An element of uncertainty still hangs over the poll with questions as to what would happen should the voters desire to retain the king.

The Maoists have warned they would launch a fresh revolt if that happens.

Ironically, the king’s grandfather Tribhuvan had promised to hold the constituent assembly election in 1950 after he returned to power from exile in India.

But he never kept his promise and the call for the election was renewed by the Maoists in 1996 when they began their savage “People’s War”.

Though the political parties resisted the demand, they eventually conceded in 2006 after King Gyanendra seized power with the help of the army and waged a war on both the opposition and the Maoists.

Nepal’s southern neighbour India, that had been in the past advocating that the critical constituent assembly election be held at the earliest, was the first foreign government to hail the holding of the polls.

Navtej Sarna, the spokesperson at India’s external affairs ministry, issued a statement, calling the “successful” election in Nepal a “welcome and historic step towards realizing the aspirations of the people of Nepal for a democratic future”.

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