Nepal's Maoists head for election victory

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The Independent Online

Less than two years after they ended their armed struggle and entered mainstream politics, Nepal's Maoists are heading towards a shock victory in the country's election.

Results from last week's vote for a national assembly give the former rebels 61 of the 108 seats counted so far. A total of 601 seats are being fought, with complete results not expected for at least another week.

The Maoists were expected to be beaten into third place by their two main rivals, the Communist UML and the Nepali Congress, but these parties have so far secured only 16 seats each.

"This victory is a command by the Nepali people to establish lasting peace," Prachanda, the Maoists' leader, said after securing his constituency seat over the weekend. "We are fully committed to the peace process and multiparty democracy and to rebuild this country."

Nepalis were voting on Thursday for representatives for an assembly that will draw up a new constitution – drawing a line under the a 10-year war that claimed 13,000 deaths. All the major parties say they are committed to abolishing Nepal's 239-year-old monarchy and declaring the country a republic.

The current king, Gyanendra, assumed the throne after the 2001 palace massacre in which eight members of the royal family were murdered by the crown prince, who then turned one of his weapons on himself.

Markedly less popular than his murdered predecessor and brother Birendra, King Gyanendra plunged the monarchy's popularity to a new low in 2005 when he imposed absolute rule for two years.