By Shirish B Pradhan
Kathmandu, May 14 (PTI) Millions of Nepalese today voted in the country’s first local-level polls in two decades as the Himalayan nation took a crucial step towards cementing democracy amid political turmoil.
Authorities recorded a 71 per cent voter turnout with sporadic election-related violence reported and one person killed in police firing in Dolakha district, 120 km east of Kathmandu.
The Election Commission has postponed polling in three centres — one each in Kavre, Kalikot and Dolakha districts.
Date for fresh voting will be announced shortly, officials said.
“First phase of local poll passes peacefully with estimated 71 per cent turnout,” the Election Commission said in a statement.
The voting began at 7 AM in almost all the 18,438 polling centres and concluded at 5 PM.
Chief Election Commissioner Ayodhee Prasad Yadav thanked the voters for the overwhelming participation in the local- level elections.
He said voting was conducted in a free and fair manner.
“The first phase of local polls have concluded in a peaceful manner,” Yadav said.
Ballot boxes from remote locations are being airlifted to the respective headquarters in some districts, he said.
Vote counting in Kathmandu and Lalitpur municipalities are expected to begin tonight while counting in other parts of the countries are likely to begin tomorrow morning.
Though the voting process was by-and-large peaceful, some instances of violence reported from a few polling stations.
The first phase of the local elections took place peacefully at 281 local units out of 283 in province 3, 4 and 6, said the EC.
Out of the 283 local bodies where first phase of elections were scheduled, voting was held in 281 bodies as candidates were elected unopposed in two units, it said.
Two rural municipalities, one each in Manang and Dolpa districts, unanimously elected their representatives without voting.
According to an EC spokesperson, authorities have registered a record 71 per cent voter turnout.
Altogether 4.9 million voters were eligible to exercise their franchise in the first phase of elections.
Nearly 50,000 candidates were vying for the position of mayor, deputy mayor, ward chairman and ward member in 281 municipalities.
Batuli Lamichhane, 115, was the oldest person to cast his vote. He voted at the polling centre at Matra village in Nuwakot district, 75 km west of Kathmandu, the EC said.
Tulasi Kumari Khatri, 104, also cast her vote in Dupcheshwor village of the same district.
Nanda Bahadur Poudel, a 105-year-old citizen from Gorkha Municipality was the second oldest person to exercise his franchise.
The second round of polls in provinces 1, 2, 5 and 7 will be held on June 14.
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 in Nepal.
The elections should be held in every five years but due to the political instability, they were halted since May 1997.
Local bodies remained ignored during the long transitional period even after the signing of a peace deal between the government and the Maoists in November 2006.
Prime Minister Prachanda has 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,” he said in a statement.
“On the one hand, the local polls have stood as a linkage to direct Nepal’s 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 governance,” Prachanda said.
This election will open door for meting out the rights and resources centralised at Singha Durbar (central government secretariat) to people’s doorstep, the prime minister 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 new Constitution is amended to accommodate their views: more representation in the 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 Madhesis.
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.