(dpa) - Nepalese across the country took part in a landmark election Thursday that appeared largely peaceful except for sporadic scuffles, officials said.
According to government officials, the country has seen no large-scale violence and turnout has been good. But voting was suspended in at least 11 constituencies, the majority of them in southern Nepal, due to minor scuffles.
"We are very satisfied with the voting so far," Home Ministry Spokesman Mod Raj Dotel said. "We have had reports of some minor incidents in some districts but polling has been peaceful in most places."
People across the country began queuing up at polling centres early in the morning ahead of the 7 am (0115 GMT) opening time. Polling stations were scheduled to close 10 hours later. And by noon voter turnout had crossed 50 per cent in major urban centres.
"We have had official reports that nearly 50 per cent of the eligible voters have already cast their ballots," Dotel said. "This shows that the people are voting enthusiastically."
There were fears of large-scale violence during polling day mainly due to violence during campaigning in which at least 19 people died.
For many Nepalese, the voting was a chance to choose their parties with the hope that the country will now head towards a lasting peace and economic development.
"We are finally able to vote after so many years," said Rajendra Shrestha as he waited for his turn at a polling centre in central Kathmandu. "I hope the country can now embark on a path to lasting peace and progress."
In a different part of town another voter echoed similar sentiment.
"This election is very important and we are choosing representatives to draft a new constitution," 40-year-old Sushila Shakya told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa after she cast her vote.
"I am very happy that I could vote and I hope that this will lead to some progress for the country," Shakya said. "We must stop fighting among ourselves."
Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala was one of the first to cast his ballot in his hometown of Biratnagar, about 350 kilometres south-east of Kathmandu.
Maoist leader Prachanda cast his ballot from his home district of Chitwan in southern Nepal.
Nepalese are voting to choose 601 members of the constituent assembly who are to draft a new constitution and ratify a decision of the interim parliament to abolish the monarchy.
Under election rules, 240 seats will be chosen through direct election while the remaining seats would be chosen on the basis on proportional representation.
Just over 17.6 million voters were eligible to cast their ballots at 20,889 polling centres while 110,000 police, including 55,000 recruited just for election security, were providing security.