Nepalgunj, Nepal — Nepal’s troubled south began voting Wednesday in the first local elections for two decades, a key stage in the country’s post-war transformation from feudal monarchy to federal democracy.
The elections began last month in other parts of the nation but were repeatedly delayed in the southern plains, which were hit by deadly protests two years ago.
The Madhesi ethnic minority say federal boundaries set by a new national constitution will leave them under-represented in parliament.
More than 60,000 candidates are competing in Wednesday’s polls, which cover around half the country and are intended to fill an institutional vacuum that has seen corruption flourish.
The last local representatives were elected in 1997 and their mandates lapsed when their five-year terms expired at the height of the brutal 1996-2006 Maoist insurgency.
“We expect good governance, an end to corruption and acceleration of development projects,’’ said 63-year-old Rajya Prasad Limbu, a community leader, after he cast his vote.
Voting began peacefully in southern Nepal, where the government has stepped up security, deploying troops and sealing the border with India.
The local elections are supposed to be the final step in a peace deal that ended the civil war in 2006.
Since then the country has been hampered by persistent instability, cycling through nine governments in a decade.
The local elections will pave the way for provincial polls and then national elections. These must be held by January 2018 when the mandate of the current parliament expires.