Stage set for Nepal polls amid tight security, Maoist threats

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Kathmandu, Nov 18: Nepal is all set to hold its second Constituent Assembly elections tomorrow with stepped up security put in place to thwart threats and violence unleashed by a CPN-Maoist-led alliance trying to disrupt the polls aimed at ending the country's political uncertainty.

"All preparations regarding the November 19 elections have been completed," Chief Election Commissioner Neel Kantha Uprety told PTI today.

The government has mobilised 200,000 security personnel, including 60,000 soldiers, and over one lakh government staff to ensure security for the crucial polls. Nepal will choose a 601-member assembly that will draft a new Constitution, including 240 elected under a direct voting system.

Polling will start at 7 am and end at 5 pm.

There will be proportionate voting for 335 seats and the remaining 26 members will be nominated by the government. Uprety contended there were no disturbances that would affect the election despite threats issued by the Maoists, who have asked people to boycott the polls.

He asked "dissenting groups not to obstruct the polls" though they could "peacefully protest". He said, "Please honour the voters' rights while exercising your rights to boycott the polls." The CPN-Maoist, led by Mohan Vaidya, has called a nine-day nationwide transport strike that is effective till Tuesday to disrupt the polls.

Polling will start at 7 am and end at 5 pm. This is the first time that elections are being held across Nepal with voters' identity cards. The government announced a three-day holiday from Sunday to facilitate the polls. "Election materials have already reached all 18,400 polling booths to conduct the polls smoothly.

Election officers have also reached the polling centres and 80 percent of voters' identity cards have been distributed," he said. The remaining ID cards would reach voters this evening. During a live televised programme this afternoon, Uprety appealed to people to exercise their franchise.

"We appeal to all 12.147 million voters to cast their votes," he said, expressing hope that the turnout would not be less than the 61 per cent recorded in the last Constituent Assembly elections held in 2008. 

"The government has provided full security to ensure a free, fair and fearless polling environment," he said.

"Security has been intensified and it is fool-proof." Violence continued a day before the polls despite claims by the CPN-Maoist that its boycott was peaceful.

Two bombs planted near the District Election Office in Saptari district were defused by an army team this morning. A bomb exploded near a police office in Dang district while suspected Maoists set ablaze a bus at Khalanga in Jumla district this morning.

Two bombs went off near a polling booth in Morang district last night though no one was injured. A bus was torched by suspected Maoists in Surkhet district last night.

One person was killed and over three dozen people were injured as the CPN-Maoist intensified its anti-poll activities and suspected Maoist cadres attacked vehicles with petrol bombs over the past 10 days. Authorities arrested at least 800 CPN-Maoist cadres for alleged involvement in violence.

The Chief Election Commissioner said the counting of votes for the first past the post or direct voting system will begin on Wednesday and results under this system will be announced within a week. However, counting for the proportionate voting system "will take two more weeks", Uprety said.

The Election Commission has allowed nearly 23,000 observers, including 235 from abroad, to observe the polls. Deputy Election Commissioner Vinod Zutshi is leading an Indian delegation of observers. Three international organisations - European Union, Carter Centre and Asian Network for Free Elections - have sent teams. Former US President Jimmy Carter is leading the team from the Carter Centre, which has mobilised over 60 observers.

The EU has sent around 100 observers. Observers have also arrived from SAARC countries, Britain, Japan and Australia. Despite the transport strike called by Maoists, buses, cars and two-wheelers were seen plying in towns and cities. The government said there would be no public and private transport services during the polls tomorrow, except vehicles operated for media and essential services with special passes, to prevent irregular practices like political parties ferrying voters from one place to another.

Nepal plunged into a constitutional crisis after the Constituent Assembly was dissolved without promulgating the Constitution last year, and fresh elections scheduled for November 2012 were not held.

With the formation of an election government led by Khil Raj Regmi in March, parties agreed after prolonged deliberations to conduct the polls in June or by December. Political infighting, including a split in the ruling Maoist party last year, confounded efforts to implement a peace plan meant to rebuild Nepal after a 10-year civil war.

PTI

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