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Polls open in Nepal’s historic election

Nepal is gearing up for its first national elections in November under the new constitution, introduced as part of the peace deal that ended the country's brutal Maoist insurgency, cementing its transformation from a Hindu monarchy to a secular federal state.

world Updated: Nov 26, 2017 11:38 IST
A Nepali voter examines a ballot papers before casting his vote at a polling station during the general election at Chautara, Sindhupalchowk district some of 100 kilometers east of Kathamndu on November 26, 2017.
A Nepali voter examines a ballot papers before casting his vote at a polling station during the general election at Chautara, Sindhupalchowk district some of 100 kilometers east of Kathamndu on November 26, 2017. (AFP Photo)

Polls opened on Sunday in Nepal for a historic round of provincial and parliamentary elections that many hope will bring the much-needed political stability to the Himalayan nation.

Under the first round of elections, 3.19 million voters were choosing lawmakers amid tight security in 32 districts, mainly hilly and mountain regions in the northern part of the land-locked country.

This is for the first time that elections for Parliament and provincial assemblies are being conducted under the new Constitution promulgated in September 2015.

The voting is taking place in 37 electoral constituencies of 32 districts. Altogether 702 candidates are in the fray for 37 seats of Parliament and 74 of provincial assemblies. Voting started at 7 AM and would continue till 5 PM (local time).

Out of the total 15.4 million voters, 3.19 million voters are eligible to cast their votes today while the remaining ones will exercise their franchise on December 7.

The Election Commission (EC) has urged voters to reach their respective polling centers and exercise their democratic rights in a free and fearless manner.

The second phase will see elections in 45 districts including Kathmandu valley and southern plains of Nepal, also known as Terai.

The elections will elect 175 Members of Parliament and 350 members of provincial assemblies in seven provinces for a five-year term.

A large number of security personnel including the army have been mobilised to ensure security.

The EC authorities visited several remote areas on helicopters to assess poll preparations.

Chief Election Commissioner Aydohee Prasad Yadav visited Dolpa in the North-East mountain region and Nuwakot in the central Nepal respectively to have a direct observation of the poll preparations.

“I am also excited for the polls as most people whom I met today in various parts of the country are really excited. Unlike them I am a bit worried if any force disturbs the elections. Thus, let’s first make this election a success and we all will celebrate it together,” CEC Yadav told reporters on the eve of the election.

“The election will complete the implementation of the first Constitution promulgated through the Constituent Assembly and federal democratic republic will be further strengthened ending the protracted political deadlock,” he said.

Two major communist parties - CPN-UML and former rebel CPN (Maoist) now rebranded as CPN (Maoist Center) - have forged an electoral alliance against the ruling Nepali Congress.

The two parties have vowed to garner a majority in the elections and forming a communist government.

The Nepali Congress has also forged an electoral alliance with pro-Hindu Rastriya Prajatantra Party in certain electoral constituencies.

There are also some electoral alliances between the Rastriya Janata Party Nepal, a key Madhesi party and Nepali Congress in some constituencies to counter the communist alliance.

“It’s an important step to implement the Constitution. Let’s hope, this election will pave the way for political stability and development in the coming days,” said former chief election commissioner Bhojraj Pokharel, who successfully conducted elections in 2008.

The country is holding provincial and parliamentary elections in two phases on November 26 and December 7.

The elections are being seen as the final step in Nepal’s transition to a federal democracy following a decade-long civil war till 2006 that claimed more than 16,000 lives.