Nepal Votes in Historic Elections

After a decade of political unrest that left thousands dead, the monumental Nepalese elections proceeded smoothly Thursday in Kathmandu, the nation's capital.

But outside the capital, three people are believed to have been killed and repolling may be necessary due to unrest in certain districts.

By 7 a.m., thousands of the 17.6 million eligible voters had already lined up to make their choice for a new assembly, which is expected to rewrite the nation's constitution and abolish the world's oldest Hindu monarchy.

There was a festive atmosphere and smiles abounded, despite the long lines. Men and women stood separately, most of the women dressed in brightly colored red, pink and blue saris.

Nestled at the foothills of the Himalayas and crushed in between China and India, Nepal is a hikers' paradise, offering a launching point for attempts to climb the world's highest peak, Mount Everest.

But the country of 27 million people has been plagued by conflict.

In 2001, the crown prince shot and killed 10 members of the royal family, including the king, before killing himself. And in 1996, the Maoist party began an insurgency, leaving an estimated 14,000 dead. The group then signed a peace agreement in 2006 that included free elections.

"From 1996 [Nepal] went through a decade-long conflict that nearly ground the country to a halt. And it saw in 2006 a mass rising of the people in peaceful street demonstrations throughout the country, which ultimately led to the restoration of a parliament," said Kieran Dwyer, spokesperson for the United Nations Mission in Nepal. "Since April 2006, this election has been complex, demands have been high and right up until a few weeks ago, many Nepalese didn't think this election would come off."

Despite the threats and deadly violence leading up to the election, most voters were comfortable in their polling areas today, realizing the significant change they made by simply checking boxes on the bright pink and blue ballots.

Sushil Maharjar, 20, had already waited in line 30 minutes with his brother and friend, and he expected to wait for at least another hour before being able to cast his vote. He didn't mind the long lines.

"I'm so excited, because it's my first time [voting]," he said. For many young people in Nepal, this is the first opportunity to vote since the last national election was held nine years ago.

He couldn't explain the platform of the party he was choosing, but he had discussed it with his parents, and he decided to vote the same way they did.

Due to the high rate of illiteracy throughout the country, the ballots included symbols instead of words. Maharajar said he voted for "the party with the sun symbol."

"It's very good because it's bringing democracy to the government," said Sita Khanal, 24, a seventh-grade teacher. "And it brings a good direction for the Nepal country."

Final election results are expected in about two weeks.

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