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South Asia Peace Initiative

Nepal Concludes Historic Elections

Kathmandu, Nepal - Nepal's first elections in nine years were disrupted by scattered incidents of violence across the country April 10, but overall the elections were hailed as peaceful. Voters expressed a sense of pride that they finally had a voice in selecting the leadership that will rewrite the nation's Constitution and decide the fate of the monarchy.

Incidents included booth capturing, destruction of ballots, and preventing voters from entering polling stations. In some cases the violence between political parties turned deadly -- at least two people were killed. The Maoists were blamed for instigating most of the trouble, though not all.

Voter turnout was high; in some districts as high as 80 percent, but nationwide it was expected to run about 60 to 70 percent. Results may be announced as early as Friday, but could be postponed for days due to voter irregularities undermining the credibility of the elections.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who was in the country as part of an international team to observe the elections, said: "These elections will end a long period of conflict and open a new chapter in Nepal's history. What we are witnessing here is revolutionary and wonderful."

"The overall feeling is that of excitement," said Ek Nath Dhakal, a candidate for the newly formed Nepal Family Party, after talking to his party members in 15 districts. "There are some incidents, less than 20, across the country," he said, and then added, "but all parties are involved: the Congress Party, the Communist Party Nepal-UML and the Maoists -- and it was not totally unexpected."

In Ramechhap district the Maoists disrupted the election at several polling stations and captured voting boxes. In Chitwan district, polling was cancelled in several places because Nepali Congress cadres tried to burn the ballots. And in Mahottari district a "major scuffle" between the Nepali Congress and Communist Party Nepal-UML cadres resulted in police firing three rounds of bullets in the air. No one was reported injured.

Since the peace process began two years ago, these elections have been postponed twice. Even up to a few weeks ago, there were periods of grave uncertainty as to whether the elections would take place or not. In one district, Surkhet, the election was not held because one candidate, Rhishi Prasad Sharma from the CPN-UML, was killed on Wednesday.

But wherever possible, Nepalese were exercising their democratic right to vote. In Hindu temples, playgrounds, schoolyards and other public places voters queued quietly outside the guarded polling area in two lines, one for men and another for women. Identification cards were checked and mobile phones surrendered as they entered to cast their votes.

There was a rumor circulating that Maoists would give voters cell phones with cameras and make them take pictures of their ballots before dropping them in the sealed boxes in order to check how they voted. This would be a clear violation of the Code of Conduct governing the elections, and cell phones were banned from the polling areas to prevent this from happening.

Inside each polling station were a number of election officials, police and observers from various political parties, all of whom were issued credentials from the Election Commission.

The French ambassador to Nepal, Gilles-Henry Garault, was at a polling booth in the capital, Kathmandu, along with two senators from France's upper house. The ambassador was amazed at the cordial spirit among the cadres from various parties who were there to observe the elections. During the electoral process they were bitter enemies, but now they sat next to each other talking cordially and laughing together.

The French delegation was part of a 150-strong contingent from the European Union, the largest single group of international observers here to oversee the election. There are 30 international organizations in Nepal with over 1,000 observers. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his wife came with 60 observers from the Carter Center.

All vehicular traffic was banned, except for those with special passes. Although the government provided a special bus for tourists that circled around the Kathmandu valley stopping at major hotels, travelers were seen lugging their suitcases along the empty roads to Tribhuvan International Airport. The border with India was closed for 72 hours.

An estimated 130,000 security personnel were mobilized, including temporary police recruited specifically for this election. There were 20,882 polling booths, located in 9,801 locations, and spread throughout the hills, valleys and plains of Nepal. More than 230,000 staff and volunteers managed the electoral process.

Whatever the outcome of this election, Nepal has already faced and overcome the biggest obstacle in the peace process. History may view this as the rebirth of Nepal.

Related articles:

Nepalese Vote to Give Peace a Chance, U.N. Envoy Praises Peace Process, Making Poverty History in Nepal

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