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Page last updated at 17:13 GMT, Monday, 14 April 2008 18:13 UK

Nepal's Maoists extend poll lead

Maoist supporter celebrates in Kathmandu (12.04.08)
Maoist supporters celebrated on the streets

Nepal's Maoist party has taken a commanding lead in a landmark election to form an assembly tasked with writing a new constitution.

The Maoists have won 102 of the 180 seats declared so far, well ahead of other parties and far more than many analysts had expected.

The party now has a good chance of securing an absolute majority.

The Maoists' deputy leader has told the BBC that he believes the monarchy will be abolished within three weeks.

Baburam Bhattarai made it clear that he expects the Maoists to lead the next government.

It has already been agreed that the new constitutional assembly, once formed, will implement the abolition of the 240-year-old monarchy.

Dr Bhattarai said he expected this to happen within three weeks, and that the royal palace might be privatised:

"Most probably it would be better to convert that palace into a museum, where the public can go and enjoy.''

Vote of confidence

The polls are the first to test the Maoists at the ballot box after their 10-year insurgency.

The BBC's Charles Haviland in Kathmandu says this is an extraordinary vote of confidence in the Maoists.

Three-quarters of the 240 first-past-the-post seats in the constituency system have been declared so far.

Of these, the Maoists are well ahead with 102 seats, says the Election Commission spokesman Laxman Bhattarai.

The next largest party, the Nepali Congress, is trailing far behind with just 30 seats.

All the top Maoist leaders have won their constituencies, mostly with large majorities.

Maoist leader Prachanda wears flower garlands after his poll victory (12.04.08)
Maoist leader Prachanda said he was committed to multiparty democracy

In addition to the constituency seats, 335 are being filled on the basis of a proportional representation system, and 26 will be appointed by the new government, making 601 seats in all.

Full results are not expected to be known for several weeks.

Our correspondent says the establishment parties have better democratic credentials, but people regard them as stale.

Several senior politicians have lost, including the nephew and daughter of Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala and the leader of the traditional second party, the Communist UML, as well as a veteran royalist and former prime minister, Surya Bahadur Thapa, who came third in his seat.

There were many accounts of Maoist intimidation in the campaign period, our correspondent says, and some unconfirmed reports of the same on election day but people have given them a huge mandate in any case.

The Maoist leaders have promised to continue co-operating with other parties and say they want good relations with Nepal's powerful neighbours, India and China.

'Committed'

The Maoists' leader, known by his nom-de-guerre, Prachanda, called the results a "victory" as he celebrated his win on Saturday in the capital, Kathmandu.

Election posters on Kathmandu street

"We are fully committed to the peace process and multi-party democracy and to rebuild this country," he said.

Maoist supporters have been holding victory processions, with red vermillion powder smeared on their faces and red hammer-and-sickle flags in their hands.

The election for the 601-seat assembly is a key element in the peace deal that ended the Maoists' decade-long insurgency.

Although the Maoists have not yet renounced violence, they will almost certainly now have to adjust from being a party of revolt to being a party at the heart of government, our correspondent says.

Nepal held its first polls since 1999 following the Maoists' decision to end their armed struggle in 2006.

King Gyanendra seized absolute power in 2005 but was forced to give up his authoritarian rule the following year after weeks of pro-democracy protests.

He has since lost all his powers and his command of the army.




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Maoists celebrate election results



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