Nepalis voted on Thursday in a historic election intended to bring communist insurgents into the country's democratic mainstream and likely to mean the end of a monarchy that has ruled for centuries.
While the two days before the vote were marred by violence one candidate was mysteriously gunned down, a protester was shot by police and six former rebels were slain in a clash with police, there were no reports of fresh attacks as polling got under way. Security was tight across the country, and voters began lining up at polling stations before polls opened a 7 am.
Many were optimistic about the elections, Nepal's first in nine years.
"I came to vote here today believing this process will settle political instability for good," said Mukunda Maraseni, a 40-year-old banker who was waiting to cast his ballot in Katmandu. The elections come almost exactly two years after Nepal's king was forced to end his royal dictatorship. The Maoists, as the former rebels are known, then gave up their 10-year fight for a communist state, which had left about 13,000 people dead.
Along with the Maoists, dozens of parties from centrist democrats to old-school royalists are competing for seats in the Constituent Assembly, which will govern Nepal and rewrite its constitution. While no single party is expected to dominate the assembly, all the major ones have agreed that their first order of business after the election should be declaring Nepal a republic and abolishing the monarchy.