By GARDINER HARRIS,NEW DELHI (NY Times): Voters crowded polling stations across Nepal on Tuesday, defying attempts by a powerful Maoist group and other parties to disrupt or prevent new elections for an assembly to write a new constitution.
By the end of the day 65 percent of the country’s 12 million eligible voters had cast ballots, Nepal’s chief election commissioner, Neel Kantha Uprety, said. “It is a grand success, if I may say so,” Mr. Uprety said in an interview. “We are very happy to see the participation of voters and the cool mind-set of the political parties and candidates.”
Some voters walked hours to reach polling places because the election commission restricted the use of unregistered vehicles on the country’s roads for the day. “It was interesting to vote, as it was my first vote,” said Deepika Thapa, 23, one of millions of young people who were casting ballots for the first time.
There were scattered reports of violence, including an explosion on Tuesday morning in Katmandu that wounded three children. The bomb, planted near a voting station, exploded when a child touched it, apparently thinking it was a toy. The child, 8, was in critical condition.
A hard-line faction called the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists had vowed to disrupt the elections. Aligned with at least a dozen other parties, the faction — known as Dashists — conducted a strike of transportation workers across the country for more than a week before the voting. During the walkout, several public vehicles were attacked; a truck driver was killed and at least two dozen other people were wounded.
The strike was meant to block voters from returning to their home villages to cast ballots, and there were reports that some voters had been dissuaded from going home by the disruptions.
The election commission said that Maoists had managed to stop balloting in one district and had looted ballot papers in another.
Troops from a special squad of the Nepalese Army were sent to both places, and Mr. Uprety said the balloting there would be rerun.
Hard-line Maoists detained a prominent Nepali journalist in the Thawang district, but the Maoists insisted that the detention did not amount to an abduction.
“He was here to make the election process a success, but we have been discussing things with him for the last two days,” said Santosh Budha, a Dashist central committee member, referring to the journalist. “It’s not an abduction.”
The opposition alliance objected to a variety of events leading up to the elections, including the appointment of the country’s chief justice as a caretaker prime minister while the elections were held. The government declared a four-day holiday to encourage voters to return to their villages.
Nepal has suffered through decades of political upheaval and paralysis, including a 10-year civil war that ended in 2006. Tuesday’s voting was meant to replace a constitutional assembly elected in 2008 that deadlocked over two major issues — what kind of democracy to adopt in Nepal and how to divide the country into states.
Many observers say that resolving those issues and completing the constitution is the only way for Nepal to halt its disastrous economic spiral, which has driven a growing number of young Nepalis to emigrate in search of work.
Political consensus is difficult to achieve in Nepal, a country of 27 million people divided among 125 ethnic groups, 127 spoken languages, scores of castes and three distinct ecosystems. More than 120 political parties have registered to compete in the latest elections; the three main parties are the Maoists, a separate Marxist-Leninist party and the Nepali Congress Party. A royalist party calling for a return of the former monarchy has also gained some attention.
Final results of the balloting are not expected for at least three weeks, according to Mr. Uprety.
Bhadra Sharma contributed reporting from Katmandu, Nepal.
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