Nepal holds final phase of crucial local polls

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Kathmandu, Sept 18 (PTI):  Polls opened on Monday in a Madhesi- dominated province of Nepal, close to the border with India, for the final phase of the first local-level election in two decades as the nation took a crucial step towards cementing democracy amid political turmoil. Voters in 136 local units of the eight districts of Province 2 will elect 6,627 representatives in Monday’s election. There are 37,236 candidates in the fray, authorities said.

More than 60,000 security personnel have been deployed to ensure security. Election Commission said border points with India had been closed to deal with any kind of security challenge. The government had announced on February 20 its plan to hold the local polls on May 14. The Madhes-centric parties, however, opposed the polls arguing that the Constitution should be amended to prior to the elections. Considering this challenge, the election body conducted the local elections in two phases in other provinces except for Province 2.

The polls were held in provinces 3, 4 and 6 on May 14 and in provinces 1, 5 and 7 on June 28. The Rastriya Janata Party-Nepal, formed after the merger of six Madhes-based parties, had boycotted the first and second rounds of polls. 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. Simmering tensions have remained and Madhesi parties refused to take part in local polls unless an amendment to the Constitution was passed to address their demand more representation in parliament and redrawing of provincial boundaries. A constitution amendment bill brought by the government was rejected by parliament in August as it could not garner a two-thirds majority. Later, disgruntled parties agreed to participate in the elections without their demands being addressed. The local polls are part of the final step in the peace deal that ended a 10-year civil war in 2006, and pave the way for provincial and general elections later this year. Since the end of the decade-long war, the country has suffered persistent instability, cycling through nine governments in a decade. The last local representatives were elected in 1997 and their mandates lapsed when their five-year terms expired at the height of the brutal Maoist insurgency.

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