Maoists lead as Nepal vote counting nearing an end

(dpa) - The counting of votes from Nepal's general election held nearly two weeks ago is nearing its end, officials said Tuesday, with Maoists expected to take a leading role in a new coalition.

The tedious process of manually counting millions of ballots from across the Himalayan nation continued amid hectic political consultations among the parties on the formation of the next government.

"Votes from less than 10 constituencies remain to be counted for the seats to be decided on proportional representation," Election Commission spokesman Laxman Bhattarai said.

However, vote counting was proceeding slower than expected and the commission was not expected to meet a Wednesday night deadline for publication of final seat counts.

"If everything goes without a hitch, then we should be able to complete the counting by Thursday," Bhattarai said. "It is a manual process and even minor disputes during counting can delay the whole process. Let's hope we face no problems now."

Bhattarai said following the completion of counting, the commission would allocate seats to political parties based on the percentage of votes received in the proportional representation.

"The parties would nominate their candidates from the closed list submitted to the commission earlier this year to complete the full makeup of the constituent assembly," Bhattarai said.

As the vote count continued, the Maoists continued to maintain their lead in the proportional representation after securing victories in half of the directly contested seats.

The Election Commission said the Maoists had won 120 of the 240 seats which were directly contested and had about 30.1 per cent of the total votes in the proportional representation.

The Maoists are predicted to gain as many as 100 of the 335 seats allocated for proportional representation.

However, the former rebels will fall short of the 301 seats necessary for majority in the assembly which is tasked with writing a new constitution and ratifying the decision of the interim parliament to abolish the monarchy.

Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala's Nepal Congress remained far behind in second place with 37 directly contested seats and just over 21.3 per cent of the votes in the proportional representation. Its total seats in the assembly is predicted to be close to 110.

Meanwhile, Nepalese political parties held internal meetings to discuss the election results and the formation of a new government.

The Maoists, which will be the biggest party in the assembly but without a majority, called for continued cooperation among the seven coalition partners.

"As the biggest party, we will propose that our party lead the new government," Maoist party chairman Prachanda told reporters after a party meeting in Kathmandu Tuesday. "We, however, want the cooperation among the seven coalition partners to continue and they should be involved in the future government."

Prachanda, who until April 2006 remained underground and his party branded a terrorist organisation by the Nepalese government, is expected to lead the government.

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