KATHMANDU, Nepal, Nov. 18 (UPI) -- Nepalese voted Tuesday to elect a second Constituent Assembly to draft a new Constitution for the Himalayan state, which has faced years of political turmoil.
The election will be for a 601-member Constituent Assembly, which will include 240 elected under a direct voting system and proportionate voting of another 335 seats. The remaining 26 members will be nominated by the government.
The newly elected constituent assembly would be charged with completing a draft constitution, a task that has remained unfinished for five years despite several deadline extensions because of squabbling among a vast number of political parties in the strategically located country, sandwiched between India and China.
Nepalnews.com reported voting across the country began at 7 a.m. and long lines were forming at polling centers in the capital Kathmandu to vote for candidates representing some 120 parties. The report said a total of 6,218 candidates were contesting in the first-past-the-post election and another 10,409 candidates in the proportional representation category
The election to the second Constituent Assembly comes about 18 months after the dissolution of the first one.
Nepalnews.com reported the current government has assured voters they can cast their ballots without any fear as tight security would be in place.
More than 12 million people were eligible to vote, with more than 6 million of them women. More than 10,000 polling centers have been set up. The election commission has for the first time distributed voter identity cards. All vehicles remained off streets and liquor sales were banned on Election Day.
A coalition of parties led by a hard-line Communist-led faction has called for boycott of the polls, The Hindu newspaper reported. However, the report said many expressed eagerness to vote and had been traveling by buses and other means of transport from their villages to vote.
There had been several incidents of violence during a 10-day nationwide transport strike but the group leading the boycott call had denied any involvement.
The Hindu said opinion polls showed the largest party in the last election, the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), has been weakened by a split, and that its rival Nepali Congress was expected to do better this time around. The polls said the Rastriya Prajatantra Party (Nepal), which supports the restoration of Nepal's monarchy, also was expected to do well.
The Maoists had held the largest number of seats in the previous assembly.
Nepal had been a Hindu monarchy for more than 200 years before a decade-long deadly Maoist-led rebellion ended it. The rebellion, in which thousands died, ended in 2006 after the Maoists agreed to a peace process.
In elections in 2008, the Maoists won the largest number of seats in the assembly but didn't have a majority, leading to an impasse among the political parties and leaving the country without a draft constitution for electing a Parliament.
The United States has welcomed the latest polls, with State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki saying free, fair, and inclusive elections are the hallmark of every democracy.
The Washington Post said voters are no longer happy with the leftists because of Nepal's economic decline and the political turmoil which forced the formation of numerous caretaker governments.
"They led a revolution to fight for the peasants, so I thought they would really uplift our lives," said a peanut vendor in Kathmandu about the leftists. "But when they came to power, they were just like everyone else. Why should I vote for them again?"
There was also concern no single party may win a clear majority, which could prolong the country's political uncertainty.
"People don't have access to a government right now," political analyst C.K. Lal in Kathmandu told the Post. "The election would allow a chance to form a properly constituted government."
But Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal, speaking to the Post, was confident of victory, saying it was his party that fought hard for the little political change that has since occurred in the country.
"When we have majority, it will be easy for us to have strong government and meet the needs of the masses." he said, "And that would create a conducive atmosphere to draft a new constitution."
Gagan Thapa, leader of the Nepali Congress, told the Post the Maoists could neither save the previous Constituent Assembly nor their own party.
Nishchal Pandey, a director with the Center for South Asia Studies in Kathmandu, told the Voice of America Tuesday's voting is crucial as Nepal has had five prime ministers in six years.
"People are frustrated with 14 hours of power outage and poor law and order. It is imperative that our constitution is drafted and delivered on time. Political stability is the most important factor for this country. Our economy is in shambles," said Pandey.