KATMANDU, Nepal The former leader of Nepal's bloody Maoist insurgency captured a seat Saturday on a new assembly that will chart the Himalayan country's future, election officials said.
Prachanda, who goes by one name, led what appeared to be a powerful Maoist showing in Thursday's election. He won a seat in a constituency in the capital, Katmandu.
"This victory is a command by the Nepali people to establish lasting peace," Prachanda told reporters. "We are fully committed to the peace process and multiparty democracy and to rebuild this country."
The former rebels have taken 20 out of 34 constituencies where vote counting was complete in the election for Nepal's Constituent Assembly, which will draft a new constitution for the country, election officials said.
Prachanda received nearly twice as many votes as his closest competitor, election official Devendra Parajuli said after declaring him the winner.
The former leader of the 10-year-long communist insurgency which claimed the lives of more than 13,000 people was covered with flower garlands by supporters who chanted slogans hailing his victory.
Hundreds of Prachanda's followers crowded the Birendra Convention Center in Katmandu where the votes were counted, waving red-and-white flags bearing the hammer and sickle.
"I want to assure the international community, especially India and China ... that we will have good relations with them and work to secure all cooperation for Nepal," Prachanda said.
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, whose Carter Center sent 62 observers to monitor the election, said the results indicated a major transition for Nepal.
"If the Maoists do gain a substantial share of power, I hope the United States will recognize and do business with the government," Carter said at a news conference in Katmandu.
Carter described the election as one of the "most profoundly important" of the 70 he has witnessed because it marked the end of a decade of political violence and the probable transformation of Nepal from a Hindu kingdom to a democratic republic.
The new constitution is widely expected to do away with Nepal's centuries-old monarchy.
The election has been touted as the cornerstone of the 2006 peace deal struck between the government and the Maoists. The agreement followed months of unrest that forced Nepal's king to cede absolute power.
Scattered shootings and clashes that killed two people on election day and eight others in the days leading up to the poll did not deter millions of Nepalis from casting ballots in the Himalayan country's first election in nine years.
Of the 34 constituencies counted by Saturday evening, the Maoists had 20 seats, the Nepali Congress had six, and the United Marxist-Leninists five, the election commission said.
Another small communist party, the Nepal Workers and Peasants' Party, won two seats, and the Madeshi People's Right Forum won one.
A complete count of votes in all 240 constituencies was expected to take weeks due to Nepal's rugged, mountainous terrain.
Members of Nepal's Maoist movement still considered a terrorist group by the United States were already predicting victory in the election for the 601-seat Constituent Assembly.
"We will get a clear majority in the final results," said Hisila Yami, a senior member of the Maoist party and a minister in the coalition government.
"People have chosen us to lead the country," she said. "This is a reflection of the people's desire for a republic that our party has always stood for."
The Election Commission said there would be re-polling in at least 60 locations because of voting irregularities, and the number could rise as election complaints are investigated. Several candidates have claimed their supporters were barred from voting by rival groups and have complained of election fraud.