- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 13, 2008

KATMANDU, Nepal (AP) — After a decade leading a communist insurgency in the mountains of Nepal, former top rebel Prachanda yesterday became the newest member of an assembly that will chart the Himalayan country’s future.

Prachanda, whose rebel nom de guerre means “the fierce one,” led a powerful showing by the former Maoists rebels in early results from Thursday’s elections. The vote is expected to usher in sweeping changes and likely signals the end of a 239-year-old royal dynasty.

The Maoists, who are still considered a terrorist group by the United States, have so far won 20 out of the 34 constituencies where counting has been completed, the election commission said yesterday.

“This victory is a command by the Nepali people to establish lasting peace,” Prachanda, 54, told reporters after the result was announced. “We are fully committed to the peace process and multiparty democracy and to rebuild this country.”

Former President Jimmy Carter, whose Carter Center sent 62 observers to monitor the election, described the election as one of the “most profoundly important” ones he has witnessed. He said it marked the end of a decade of political violence and the likely transformation of Nepal from a Hindu kingdom to a democratic republic.

“If the Maoists do gain a substantial share of power, I hope the United States will recognize and do business with the government,” Mr. Carter told reporters in Katmandu.

Complete results for the 601-seat Constituent Assembly were not expected for a few weeks, though officials said they should have a clear picture of what the assembly will look later this week.

None of the parties — from the Maoists to centrist democrats to old-school royalists — is expected to win a majority. But the Maoists’ strong early showing has surprised most observers, who before the vote had them placing third behind the country’s traditional powers.

The election has been touted as the cornerstone of the 2006 peace deal with the Maoists, whose 10-year-long insurgency left about 13,000 people dead. The agreement followed weeks of unrest that forced Nepal’s autocratic king to cede absolute power, which he had seized a year earlier.

Prachanda, whose real name is Pushpa Kamal Dahal, got almost twice the number of votes than his closest competitor from a Katmandu election district, an election official said.

Afterward, supporters covered him with flower garlands and chanted slogans hailing his victory.

“I want to assure the international community, especially India and China … that we will have good relations with them and work to secure all cooperation for Nepal,” Prachanda said.

Scattered shootings and clashes that killed two people on election day and eight others in the days leading up to the vote did not deter millions of Nepalese from casting ballots in the country’s first election in nine years.

Along with the Maoists’ 20 seats, the centrist Nepali Congress won six and the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist) took five by yesterday evening, the election commission said.

The direct elections took place for 240 seats in parliament. Another 335 seats are being chosen through a nationwide proportional representation system with quotas for women and Nepal’s myriad ethnic and caste groups. The remaining 26 seats are reserved for major politicians who don’t win seats.

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