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Monday, May 3, 1999 Published at 23:41 GMT 00:41 UK

World: South Asia

Nepal: Politics and pessimism

Armed soldiers collected ballot boxes as violence erupted

By the BBC's Alastair Lawson in Nepal

The first stage of general elections in Nepal began on Monday with six million people in 93 constituencies eligible to vote.

The second stage will be held on 17 May with more than seven million people able to vote in 112 constituencies.

[ image: Many are disillusioned with the political system]
Many are disillusioned with the political system
But it is doubtful whether the poll will solve the country's problems.

The re-introduction of democracy to Nepal after three decades of absolute monarchy has failed to solve many of the country's difficulties.

It remains one of the poorest countries in the world, its political system hampered by corruption, political in-fighting and the failure over the last five years of any party to gain an overall majority in parliament.

The winner of the election will form the eighth government in Nepal since 1991.

Amid this political instability, a Maoist insurrection has led to 700 deaths over the last three years.

That is a higher figure than those who died in the struggle for democracy in 1990.

The Maoists, who say they want Nepal to become a Communist republic, have called on their supporters to boycott the poll.

[ image: More than 2,000 candidates are standing]
More than 2,000 candidates are standing
They are now believed to be active in nearly half of Nepal's districts.

The government has upped security to prevent what it fears may be an attempt by the Maoists to disrupt the election.

Nearly all of the areas affected by the insurgency went to the polls on Monday - it remains to be seen whether people will refrain from voting because of their boycott call, or because of apathy.

Not all gloomy

In Kathmandu, thousands of people have not obtained a voter's identity card, a development which most commentators have attributed to disillusionment with Nepal's political system.

Yet not everything since the return to democracy should give grounds for pessimism.

Politics may be less important to many people, but it is certainly more transparent.

The wide range of political opinion is reflected in a press and media that for the most part can function freely, even if some pro-Maoist publications have been closely watched by the authorities.

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