KATHMANDU, April 12: Nepal’s ex-rebel Maoists were emerging on Saturday as the surprise single biggest victors in early results from landmark elections aimed at rebuilding the Himalayan nation after a bloody civil war.

The polls were held on Thursday to elect a 601-seat assembly which is slated to abolish the centuries-old monarchy and rewrite the constitution.

“The Maoists have won or are leading in a total of 82 seats,” said election commission spokesman Laxman Bhattarai. Full results of the impoverished Himalayan nation’s polls — a dual first-past-the-post and proportional representation system — will not be known for at least a week.

But “what we can be fairly certain about is that the Maoists have a strong chance of emerging as the single largest party,” said Nepali Times political columnist Prashant Jha.

However, he added: “We can take the first-past-the-post as some sort of trend, but not necessarily extrapolate it fully. There will be differences and other parties are banking on that now.”

In the capital, thousands of Maoist supporters staged impromptu victory rallies, waving hammer-and-sickle flags, shouting Maoist slogans and throwing red powder to celebrate their early victories.

The proportional election results, which will take longer to calculate, were expected to give the Maoists a further boost, analysts said.

Among the Maoists rejoicing was the party’s charismatic leader Prachanda, who won twice as many votes as his nearest rival in his Kathmandu constituency.

“I thank all Nepalese people for giving us the responsibility to make a new Nepal. I will remain fully committed to the peace process and multi-party democracy,” said Prachanda, whose nom-de-guerre means “the fierce one”.

“We are committed to working with other political parties... to make the new constitution that will chart a new course for Nepal,” said Prachanda as Maoist supporters cheered him.

The Maoists swept eight out of 10 constituencies in the hill-ringed Kathmandu capital region, a traditional bastion of the monarchy.

Nepal’s King Gyanendra kept out of sight on Saturday as the results came in from the election, expected to see the monarch — revered by some as the incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu, the protector — booted from his throne.

Seventeen constituencies had been won by the Maoists out of 29 seats declared and the party was leading in another 65 constituencies, election officials said.

The centrist Nepali Congress had won or was leading in 28 constituencies while the left-of-centre Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) had won or was leading in 22, the officials said. Smaller parties had won or were leading in the remaining 19 constituencies being counted.—AFP

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