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Nepali Cong, Maoists in close race

world Updated: Apr 11, 2008 15:41 IST
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Nepal's former Maoist guerrillas, who had fought a 10-year savage war to overthrow the monarchy, tasted victory on Friday with trends in Kathmandu valley showing them poised to become the second largest party, after Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala's Nepali Congress (NC).

Thursday's historic constituent assembly election ended at 5 pm and the counting of votes started at midnight, with the first results trickling in Friday morning.

NC members were jubilant as the first declared seat in the poll that will decide the future of Nepal's monarchy went to them.

Exultant party members waved flags and chanted slogans before the tightly guarded Rastriya Sabha Griha as NC's Prakash Man Singh, a former minister and son of Nepal's most revered freedom fighter Ganesh Man Singh, was declared winner from Kathmandu Constituency One.

He thrashed his nearest rival, Education and Sports Minister Pradeep Nepal, who comes from the NC's traditional rival, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML).

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.

"It is the people's verdict for democracy and peace," said NC leader Tirtharam Dhangol as the 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 six other constituencies in Kathmandu, while NC contestants were leading, the Maoists were a close second, with the UML trailing behind.

In Constituency Two, debutant Maoist candidate Jhakku Prasad Subedi pulled off a ballot coup, humbling one of the top politicians of Nepal, former deputy prime minister and UML chief Madhav Kumar Nepal.

Failing to reach a poll alliance with the Maoists cost the UML dearly with its candidates trailing behind the NC and Maoists in most constituencies in the valley.

Vidya Bhandari, widow of Madan Bhandari, a top UML leader, was trailing her NC rival Suprabha Ghimire while former UML minister Ishwor Pokhrel was left behind by maverick NC leader Narhari Acharya.

All eyes are on Kathmandu valley's Constituency 10 from where Maoist supremo Prachanda is making his poll debut in a political career spanning three decades, most of which was spent underground.

First reports indicated the charismatic leader, projected as the first president of a republic of Nepal, was ahead of his NC and UML challengers.

In neighbouring Lalitpur district, Maoist Minister For Women, Children And Social Welfare Pampa Bhushal seemed poised to win, leaving behind rivals who include former UML minister Raghuji Pant.

In the temple town of Bhaktapur, the UML suffered an unexpected reversal.

Considered the bastion of the Nepal Workers and Peasants Party (NWPP), a member of the ruling alliance but without any minister in the cabinet, Bhaktapur teetered between NWPP and the NC.

While NWPP chief Narayan Man Bijukchhe was leading in his own constituency, his trusted aide Sunil Prajaati was pushed back by NC's Lekhnath Neupane in Constituency Two.

Counting had also started in the two remote districts of Banke and Bardiya.

In Bardiya, Maoist Vishnu Chaudhary was leading, according to the initial counting while in Banke, once a Maoist stronghold, it was a tough fight between the NC and the new emerging power from the plains, the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum.

So far, none of the royalist parties had been able to make a mark.

The counting means a nail-biting wait for Nepal's royal family who could be shown the door within a month to make way for a federal republic.