Kathmandu: Nepalis began voting on10 April in a historic election intended to bring communist insurgents into the country’s democratic mainstream and expected to bring an end to a monarchy that has ruled for centuries.
The two days preceding the Himalayan nation’s 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 — and there was at least one fresh attack after polling got under way.
Security was tight across the country, and voters began lining up at some 20,000 polling stations before polls opened a 7am. Nearly 18 million people were eligible to vote.
Disturbances were reported in at least four areas of southern Nepal.
Motorcyle-riding gunmen shot at one candidate in Janakpur but she escaped unhurt, said district officer Ram Sharan Chimoiorya.
Voting was suspended at three stations in Chitwan district after an unidentified group kicked ballot boxes, sparking a scuffle among party representatives, said Ratna Raj Pandey, the district officer.
Chitwan is a major stronghold of the Maoists, as the former rebels are known.
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 Kathmandu.
The elections come almost exactly two years after Nepal’s king was forced to end his royal dictatorship. The Maoists 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 601-seat 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.