Nepal today saw a high turnout of nearly 73 per cent polling in the final phase of the local-level elections in a Madhesi-dominated province, close to the border with India, as the nation took a crucial step towards cementing democracy amid political turmoil.
Barring some sporadic incidents, the third phase which was postponed twice due to opposition by Madhesi parties, passed off by-and-large peacefully in 136 local units of eight districts under the province.
Polling for the elections, being held for the first time in two decades, began at 7 AM and continued until 5 PM. The turnouts were around 73 per cent, according to the election commission.
This phase would elect 6,627 representatives. Eight candidates have been elected unopposed.
There are one metropolitan city, three sub-metropolis, 73 municipalities and 59 rural municipalities in the eight districts of the province in southern Nepal. There were 37,236 candidates in the fray, authorities said.
More than 60,000 security personnel were deployed to ensure security. The Election Commission said border points with India had been closed as a precautionary measure.
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.