Image: Babu Ram Bhattarai, Prachanda, Robert Piper
Binod Joshi  /  AP
Nepalese Maoist leader Babu Ram Bhattarai, left, and U.N. official Robert Piper, right, look on Thursday as Maoist chairman Prachanda addresses journalists after his party won the most seats in the country's new governing assembly.
updated 4/24/2008 6:32:11 AM ET 2008-04-24T10:32:11

Former communist rebels won the most seats in Nepal’s new governing assembly, taking more than double the number of their nearest rival, an election official said Thursday.

The former insurgents, known as the Maoists, are now expected to form the backbone of Nepal’s new government and usher in sweeping changes to the impoverished Himalayan nation, although they will not have an absolute majority in the 601-seat Constituent Assembly.

Among the biggest likely changes is the abolition of Nepal’s 239-year-old monarchy, which the Maoists have repeatedly said must go.

But the Maoists, who are considered terrorists by the United States, have made it clear they are committed capitalists, albeit left-leaning ones, and have no plans to transform Nepal into a communist state.

Apart from that, there’s still much uncertainty over what the new government will look like.

The Maoists have been in talks in recent days with the other major parties about forming an administration and are pushing for the creation of a president. That job they want filled by their leader, who is known as Prachanda, or “the fierce one” in Nepali.

“It is my desire to be the president,” Prachanda told reporters Thursday after meeting with U.N. officials and foreign ambassadors in Katmandu. “But since there is no provision in the present constitution, we will have to reach some agreement with the other political parties.”

Subdued
Prachanda’s reaction to Thursday’s news was subdued — he spoke about the mechanics of government and shied away from grand statements about Nepal’s future. It was clear that the Maoists, who have led the vote tally since counting began, have moved past celebrating and are now trying to figure out just how to run the country.

The assembly the Maoists will lead is charged with rewriting Nepal’s constitution while it governs the country. Its seats were chosen through a mix of direct elections and a proportional representation system.

Election Commission official Yam Bahadur Dura said Thursday’s preliminary results show the Maoists won a total of 217 seats.

In second place was Nepal’s traditional electoral power, the Nepali Congress, with 107 seats. And the other major party, the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist), which had been expected to win the election, was in third with slightly fewer seats.

Dura said final results were expected later Thursday.

The election was touted as the cornerstone of a 2006 peace deal struck with the Maoists following weeks of unrest that forced Nepal’s king to cede power, which he had seized the year before.

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