Kathmandu: Nepal’s mountainous terrain, poor access to roads and lack of counting centres are delaying results from last week’s balloting, the chief election commissioner said, as first returns show the former rebel party leading.
“The topography of the country is very difficult to handle,” Bhoj Raj Pokharel said in the capital, Kathmandu. “We are waiting to collect about 60,000 ballot boxes and we do not know how many days it will take. Counting halls, which need a big space, are not available in all districts.”
The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal, is leading in the voting for a 601-seat assembly. The party has won 80 of the 148 constituencies where counting is complete and is leading in 30 other seats, the Election Commission said.
Nepal’s assembly will draw up a new constitution to create a republic, ending almost 240 years of rule by the monarchy. The rebels signed a peace accord in November 2006 and joined a seven-party coalition government to prepare for the first general election in the Himalayan country since 1991.
Red rage: Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) supporters take out a victory rally in Kathmandu on Monday. The former rebel party is leading in the voting for a 601-seat assembly.
The peace accord ended a decade-long insurgency, which claimed 13,000 lives and damaged the tourism dependent economy of the country that is home to Mount Everest, the world’s tallest peak.
“Undue delay in announcing the final results will result in speculation about fraud being committed,” Damuel Magbuel, deputy chief of the Nepal Mission of the Asian Network for Free Elections, said in Kathmandu. “People tend to be restive.”
Nepali Congress, the country’s biggest and oldest political party, has won 24 seats and the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) has 22 seats, the commission said on its website. Parties such as the Madhesi People’s Rights Forum, which are seeking regional autonomy in the Terai region, won 14 seats while the Terai Madhes Loktantrik Party won in four constituencies.
Dahal, also known as Prachanda, met Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala on Sunday to discuss how the seven-party coalition will maintain its authority while counting takes place, according to Nepalnews.com.
Many of Nepal’s regions aren’t connected by roads, Pokharel said. “In extreme regions, where one has to walk for seven-eight days, we use a helicopter to collect the ballot boxes,” he said. “In areas where we have road connections, we use trucks and other vehicles that are available.”
In other districts, people join a procession carrying the semi-transparent ballot boxes to the counting centre, Pokharel said.
“Party representatives, polling officials and others join the procession and they walk for about a day or two to the headquarters,” he said. “It is like a caravan and looks like a marriage ceremony.”
Disagreements between political parties on whether ballot papers were correctly stamped are causing further delays, he said. Two papers, one for choosing a regional candidate and another for the national parliament, have to be counted.
After counting is completed, the Election Commission has to “give a certain amount” of time to the parties to choose their winning candidates for the proportional representation system, Pokharel said.
“If there is a mistake, then we have to ask the political parties to submit it again,” he said. “All these processes take a long time to finalize.”
The commission ordered new voting at 75 stations in 19 constituencies covering 12 districts, Laxman Bhattarai, the commission spokesman, said. “It will stretch our resources and may delay the result.”
The Election Commission “must respond to repolling demands of political parties swiftly,” said Magbuel. “Our impression is that the commission is trying to be popular rather than be right. It is an unpleasant task.”
About 60% of the country’s 17.6 million voters took part in the election, the commission said. They will elect 240 members from each of their provinces and another 335 candidates through the proportional electoral system, it said.
Another 26 members will be nominated by the interim council of ministers, the commission said.
“One of the things why this election is important in Nepal is that it transforms conflict into a peace process,” Pokharel said. “It is a milestone for the country.”
Nepal, which borders India and China, has a population of 26.4 million people, according to the government’s Central Bureau of Statistics.