KATHMANDU, Nov 21: Nepal’s Maoist leader, who swapped arms for politics when his “people’s war” ended in 2006, threw the country’s elections into doubt on Thursday by claiming the poll was rigged following big losses for his party.

Pushpa Kamal Dahal, better known as Prachanda, demanded a halt to vote-counting after losing his own seat in Tuesday’s elections aimed at installing a constituent assembly and ending years of political instability.

“We urge the election commission to stop the counting,” Prachanda told a press conference.

“We accept (the) people’s verdict but cannot accept conspiracy and poll-rigging.” As protesters gathered outside the party’s headquarters chanting “We are ready to fight again!”, the former guerrilla said ballot boxes were tampered with while being transported from polling stations to counting centres.

Prachanda, the country’s first post-war prime minister, finished a distant third in his Kathmandu constituency, well behind the winning Nepali Congress party candidate, Rajan K. C., according to the election commission.

The Maoist party swept elections in 2008, but results showed them trailing badly in a vote seen as vital in completing a long-stalled peace process which has drifted in recent years.

Tentative results showed the Maoists leading in just 11 per cent of the 187 constituencies where vote-counting has been completed or is well under way.

Even if the party were to sweep the remaining 53 directly-elected seats, it would have won less than one third of the vote.

Millions of Nepalis voted on Tuesday, registering a higher turnout than the first post-war elections in 2008 which created a constituent assembly tasked with writing a new constitution.

But after five years, five prime ministers and endless political infighting it collapsed without completing the process in 2012, leading to a leadership vacuum which Tuesday’s election was intended to fill.

Even before Prachanda’s protest, a hardline splinter group of the Maoist party had decided to boycott the vote and launch a campaign of intimidation, leading to a series of small explosions and arson attacks.

“This is a genuine election and if some political parties are not satisfied with the outcome, they must come with evidence... there’s no place for violence,” head of the EU’s election observer group, Eva Joly, said on Thursday.

She said the polls were held in an “independent and impartial manner”, a view echoed by other international observers including former US President Jimmy Carter. The Maoists won the last elections with the promise of social change, economic growth and lasting peace in a country which lost an estimated 16,000 people during the 10-year war between the rebels and government forces.

But they have since faced sharp criticism from many core supporters who accuse them of abandoning their ideals and adopting a life of luxury after helping to abolish the country’s monarchy.

Chief Election Commissioner Neel Kantha Uprety said counting would continue despite Prachanda’s demand.

“An election is a way to understand the people’s verdict, I request all political parties to respect people’s opinion,” Uprety told reporters.

Former US president Carter, who is in Kathmandu to monitor the polls, told a press conference on Thursday that he was “very disappointed” over the Maoist rejection of the electoral process.

“My hope is that they would react peacefully and participate in writing the constitution,” Carter said.

Carter, whose NGO The Carter Centre monitored the 2008 polls, said he would meet with Prachanda later on Thursday and urge him to “respect the will of Nepali voters”.

Maoist spokesman, Agni Sapkota, said the party would hold a central committee meeting on Saturday to discuss its future tactics.

“At the meeting, we will decide on the upcoming steps that the party will take,” Sapkota said.

Preliminary results are likely to emerge by Friday, with full results expected by the end of the month.

More than 100 parties, including three major ones – the Unified Marxist-Leninist, the Nepali Congress and the Maoists – fielded candidates for the assembly.

In addition to the 240 directly-elected seats, an additional 335 seats will be awarded via a proportional representation system and a further 26 will be chosen by a council of ministers.—AFP