In a landmark moment to the country’s transition to democracy, Nepalese on Sunday were voting for representatives in municipal and village councils for the first time in two decades.
Nearly five million people on Sunday were voting in the first phase of the much awaited local elections taking place for the first time after the Himalayan nation became a federal democratic republic.
According to local media, a total of 4,956,925 registered voters are eligible to cast their votes at 6,642 polling stations across Nepal at 281 local units out of 283 in province 3, 4 and 6. It said as the candidates have been elected unopposed in two local units, polls are taking place in remaining local units only.
Nearly 50,000 candidates are vying for the position of mayor, deputy mayor, ward chairman and ward member in 281 local municipalities.
The local polls will elect a chairperson of the village council, vice chairperson, municipality's mayor, deputy mayor, ward chairperson, two ward members from open quota, a woman ward member and a woman ward member representing the Dalit community.
The second round of polls in provinces 1, 2, 5 and 7 will be held on 14 May and 14 June respectively.
The absence of elected representatives in the local bodies for more than 15 years obstructed development in the villages and towns across the country including the capital city Kathmandu.
Local-level elections could not be held after 1997 largely as a result of the decade-long Maoist insurgency that claimed more than 16,000 lives. The elections should be held in every five years but due to political instability, they were halted since May 1997.
Local bodies remained ignored during the long transitional period even after the peace deal signed between the government and the Maoists in November 2006.
Prime Minister Prachanda on Sunday appealed to the voters to use their sovereign voting rights by casting votes.
“I urge all the electors to participate in this historic local-level election and use their sovereign voting rights. In a democracy, people can exercise their sovereign rights through election,” Prachanda said in a statement.
On the one hand, the local polls have stood as a linkage to direct Nepals peace process to a logical conclusion, while on the other, it can be looked upon as a milestone to end the unitary and centralised governing system and establish federal governancePrachanda, Nepal Prime Minister
This election will open door for meting out the rights and resources centralised at Singha Durbar (central government secretariat) to peoples doorstep, the prime minister said.
For the last two decades, Bureaucrats have since filled those positions, many appointed on the basis of allegiance to the main political parties. Corruption has flourished, hampering the delivery of basic services - from healthcare to the appointment of teachers at government schools.
“For the past 20 years, government-appointed officials have been functioning in these positions. They didn’t represent the people or care about what was wrong or needed in city or neighborhood. Now we will finally get people who would at least listen and work for us,” a government official Janak Joshi said.
Nepal has been witnessing political instability.
Although major Madhesi group -- the Rastriya Janata Party Nepal -- has decided to boycott the first phase of polls, two other Madhesi parties -- Federal Socialist Party and Madhesi Peoples Forum Democratic -- are participating in the polls.
Some Madhes-centric parties have opposed the elections until the Constitution is amended to accommodate their views: more representation in parliament and redrawing of provincial boundaries.
The Nepal government has tabled a new Constitution amendment bill in the Parliament to address the demands of the agitating Madhesi parties.
Madhesis, mostly of Indian-origin, launched a prolonged agitation between September 2015 and February last year against the implementation of the new Constitution which they felt marginalised the Terai community.
The Himalayan nation’s transition from a Hindu monarchy to a secular republic was impoverished after a peace deal in 2006 that ended the decade-long Maoist uprising.