Nepalese enthusiastically prepare for polls
The new assembly will write a constitution, a key demand of former Maoist rebels.
Two years after forcing King Gyanendra to hand over executive powers to mainstream parties, Nepalese will elect an assembly April 10 that they hope will conclude a peace process with former Maoist rebels, whose 10-year insurgency killed more than 13,000.Skip to next paragraph
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An elected assembly, which will write a new constitution, was a key demand of the Maoists, who ended their war in 2006 and are now part of the interim parliament and interim government.
The polls – postponed twice last year – has taken on the spirit of a festival, despite being marred by four explosions over the past five days. Flags are flying from motorcycles and bicycles and thousands have gathered to hear candidates speak.
But analysts caution that the postelection period will be a challenging one. The Maoists may fare poorly, as they do not have a strong political base and there is resentment against their past violence.
"A poor election result for the Maoists, which is almost certain, can put pressure on their leadership to quit the peace process and possibly resume war," says Krishna Khanal, a political analyst at Nepal's largest university, the Tribhuvan University.
Coupled with their past atrocities, the Maoists' lack of electoral experience could also cost them dearly, analysts say.
This is the first time Maoist chairman Puspa Kamal Dahal, better known by his nom de guerre Prachanda, or "The Fierce One," and an overwhelming majority of his party comrades are standing in an election. During the last national election held in 1999, the Maoists were underground, fighting a war.
The assembly will have a total of 601 members, 335 of whom will be elected by proportional electoral system, in which Nepalese vote for a party. Another 240 will be chosen by direct vote. The remaining 26 will be nominated by the prime minister.
Under the proportional electoral system, parties will get seats according to the percentage of votes they receive. There will be two sets of ballot papers – one for the direct vote and one for the proportional system.
The proportional system might not play to the Maoists' advantage, analysts say, as their strong areas are the remote hills, which are sparsely populated. And the Maoists, who joined the interim parliament in 2007 as the second-largest party, may not be comfortable with a small presence in the elected assembly, analysts say.
Former leader Prachanda is running from a constituency in Kathmandu and one in Rolpa district, the cradle of the Maoist insurgency. While his victory in Rolpa is almost certain, he is an outsider in Kathmandu, which is a stronghold of Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML).