Maoists take big lead in Nepal elections

NEW DELHI – Defying nearly everyone’s expectations but their own, Nepal’s former Maoist rebels took a commanding lead Monday in partial results from last week’s election, a showing that could have profound effects on the Himalayan nation.

With the votes tabulated in more than two-thirds of the 240 seats contested by direct election for an assembly charged with writing a new constitution, the Maoists have won 105 and are ahead in seven more districts, Nepal’s Election Commission reported. The tally dwarfs that of the two other major parties: the Nepali Congress, with 30 seats, and a communist grouping known as the UML, with 24.

The results so far have confounded analysts, most of whom had predicted before last Thursday’s vote that the Maoists would come in third. But without any proper polling data available, those forecasts were little more than guesses about the outcome of Nepal’s first election in nine years.

Many observers still believe that the Maoists, who laid down their arms in November 2006 after a decade of guerrilla war, will find it hard to land a majority in the new 601-member constituent assembly. Under the complex rules governing the body’s composition, 335 seats will be allocated proportionally to the parties based on the results of a separate ballot cast Thursday. The remaining seats will be appointed.

It could be several days before the full makeup of the assembly becomes clear.

Throughout the campaign, confident claims by the Maoists’ leader, who goes by the nom de guerre Prachanda, that his party would sweep the election were dismissed by commentators as mere bravado.

But as results trickled in, including Prachanda’s own win in a Maoist stronghold on the edge of the capital, Katmandu, many of his supporters began declaring victory.

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