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Nepal leftist alliance appears heading for election victory

By Gopal Sharma

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - A leftist alliance between Nepal’s former Maoist rebels and moderate communists appeared to be heading for a victory in elections aimed at completing a transition to democracy after the abolition of the monarchy and end to civil war.

Early tallies from Thursday’s vote show the leftists lead in 63 out of 80 constituencies where counting has begun.

Nepal has seen 10 government changes in as many years. Instability has given rise to corruption, retarded growth and slowed recovery from a 2015 earthquake that killed 9,000 people.

The election pits the centrist Nepali Congress party of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, who heads a loose alliance that includes the Madhesi parties from Nepal's southern plains and former royalists, against the tight-knit alliance of former Maoists and the moderate Communist UML party.

The Nepali Congress party is considered a pro-India group, while the opposition alliance is seen as closer to China.

Nepal is a natural buffer between the two and the outcome could indicate whether China or India gets the upper hand in the battle for influence in a nation rich in hydropower and home to Mount Everest.

Nepal emerged from a civil war in 2006 and abolished its 239-year-old Hindu monarchy two years later.

Guna Raj Luintel, editor of the daily Nagarik, said it was almost certain the leftist alliance would win.

“Trends so far suggest they could win a two-thirds majority. If that happened, that will be a landslide win,” Luintel said.

There are 165 seats to be decided on a first-past-the-post basis for which voting was held on Thursday with another 110 seats decided by proportional representation.

Few results are in from the southern plains, home to nearly half of the population, and communists are thought to have weaker support there.

Final results of the election, Nepal’s first under its republican constitution approved by a special Constituent Assembly in 2015, could take around 10 days due to cumbersome counting procedures.

(Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Nick Macfie)