With nearly 70pc of pop­u­la­tion un­der 35 years, many are elect­ing local reps for the first time

New Straits Times - - World -


VSALVADOR SO­BRAL, Euro­vi­sion win­ner

OTING be­gan yes­ter­day in Nepal’s first local elec­tions for two decades, a land­mark mo­ment in the coun­try’s fraught tran­si­tion to democ­racy.

Polls opened in three prov­inces at 7am, with nearly 50,000 can­di­dates vy­ing for the po­si­tion of mayor, deputy mayor, ward chair­man and ward mem­ber in 283 local mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties.

With nearly 70 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion aged un­der 35, many are elect­ing their local rep­re­sen­ta­tives for the first time.

The local rep­re­sen­ta­tives were last elected in 1997 and their fiveyear terms ex­pired at the height of the bru­tal Maoist in­sur­gency.

The 10-year war ended in 2006, and the coun­try be­gan a rocky tran­si­tion from a Hindu monar­chy to a sec­u­lar fed­eral republic, which has seen it cy­cle through nine gov­ern­ments.

The long gap be­tween polls has left an in­sti­tu­tional void at local level, which has seen graft be­come a way of life in Nepal, ham­per­ing the de­liv­ery of ba­sic ser­vices as well as the re­cov­ery from a dev­as­tat­ing 2015 earth­quake.

Long queues started to form early out­side polling sta­tions in the cap­i­tal here, many ea­ger vot­ers shel­ter­ing un­der um­brel­las from the harsh sun.

The bal­lot paper in the cap­i­tal — one of the largest con­stituen­cies — was around 1m long to ac­com­mo­date the names of the 878 can­di­dates.

“It is dif­fi­cult to ex­pect much from our politi­cians. They have al­ways been self­ish and not worked for the peo­ple. But, I hope that with this elec­tion, things will change,” said house­wife Shova Ma­har­jan, 41, after cast­ing her vote in the cap­i­tal.

There were spo­radic re­ports of vi­o­lence, with one per­son killed when po­lice opened fire on a group at­tempt­ing to raid a polling sta­tion in Do­lakha district, 180km north­west of here, po­lice said.

A bomb was also found early morn­ing out­side the house of a may­oral can­di­date for the main op­po­si­tion CPN-UML party in Bhak­ta­pur, 15km east of here. It was dif­fused with­out in­ci­dent.

While the youth vote is seen as key in un­der­min­ing the grip of the three main po­lit­i­cal par­ties, the el­derly were also out in force, in­clud­ing an 105-year-old man who cast his bal­lot in Gorkha, the epi­cen­tre of the dev­as­tat­ing 2015 earth­quake, ac­cord­ing to the elec­tion com­mis­sion.

Many in­de­pen­dent can­di­dates are stand­ing for seats, while a num­ber of small re­formist par­ties are also ex­pected to grab some votes from the tra­di­tional po­lit­i­cal heavy­weights.

The vote has been split into two phases be­cause of un­rest in the south­ern plains bor­der­ing In­dia, where the mi­nor­ity Mad­hesi eth­nic group is re­fus­ing to take part un­til an amend­ment to the con­sti­tu­tion is passed.

The re­main­ing four prov­inces,

MON­DAY, MAY 15, 2017 con­sid­ered po­ten­tial flash­points for elec­tion-re­lated vi­o­lence, will vote in the sec­ond phase on June 14.

But with re­sults from yes­ter­day’s vote ex­pected later this week, ob­servers have ex­pressed con­cern that the first phase would in­flu­ence the out­come of the sec­ond.

As part of the deal that ended the civil war, a new con­sti­tu­tion was writ­ten and fi­nally adopted in Septem­ber 2015, nearly a decade after the end of the con­flict.

The char­ter man­dated that local elec­tions, fol­lowed by pro­vin­cial and then na­tional elec­tions, be held by Jan­uary next year — the fi­nal step in the drawn-out peace process.

But, the con­sti­tu­tion sparked protests by the Mad­hesi com­mu­nity, who said the doc­u­ment left them po­lit­i­cally marginalised, and led to a months-long block­ade of the In­dia-Nepal bor­der in 2015 that caused a crip­pling short­age of goods across the coun­try.

The Mad­hesi threat­ened to boy­cott the local polls un­less the con­sti­tu­tion was rewrit­ten. This forced the gov­ern­ment to split the vote into two phases.

The gov­ern­ment had promised a vote on an amend­ment to the con­sti­tu­tion after yes­ter­day’s elec­tion, but the frag­ile rul­ing coalition is strug­gling to get a ma­jor­ity in Par­lia­ment to pass the bill. AFP


Nepalese wait­ing to cast their votes at a polling sta­tion in Kath­mandu yes­ter­day.

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