Voting begins in Nepal: Election official

AFP , Tuesday 19 Nov 2013

Polling stations open in Nepal as voters elect constituent assembly tasked with drafting a new constitution

Polling stations in Nepal opened early Tuesday for elections that will be crucial in completing a peace process stalled for several years since the end of a decade-long civil war.

"Voting has begun all over the country," Bir Bahadur Rai, a spokesman for the election commission told AFP.

The vote is only the second since a civil war launched by Maoist rebels concluded in 2006, ending royal rule and transforming the Himalayan nation into a secular republic.

Voters lined up outside polling stations nearly an hour before the polls opened on a foggy day in the capital, AFP reporters said, despite expectations that many might stay home after recent violence by anti-election hardliners.

Nepalis flocked to the ballot box in the first constituent assembly elections in 2008 and delivered an overwhelming victory to the Maoist party, but have since grown frustrated following years of political infighting.

A series of coalition governments have failed to draft a constitution and complete the peace process, leading to the collapse of the first constituent assembly in May 2012.

The Maoists, led by former rebel leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal, known better as Prachanda, have since split, with a hardline faction boycotting Tuesday's polls.

More than 100 parties, including three major ones -- the Unified Marxist-Leninist, the Nepali Congress and the Maoists -- are fielding candidates for the 601-seat constituent assembly, which will also serve as a parliament.

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