KATHMANDU, Nepal – Millions of Nepalese voted Sunday for representatives in municipal and village councils for the first time in two decades, a sign that the country’s fractious democracy may be stabilizing.
Crucial local posts have been occupied by government-appointed bureaucrats because elections could not be held amid a 10-year communist insurgency and years of delays in drafting a new constitution.
Chief Election Commissioner Ayodhee Prasad Yadav said one person was killed in police firing at a polling station, but that voting was peaceful in the rest of the country.
Voter turnout was estimated at 71 percent, he said, adding that vote counting would begin Sunday evening or Monday.
Voters were excited to choose local officials after 20 years.
“The mayor is more important than the prime minister for us and the ward chairman is greater than a minister. All of us are gathered here for democracy,” said Sagar Lal Shrestha, a retired businessman.
Earlier Sunday, an army ordnance disposal team safely detonated two explosive devices near the capital, Kathmandu, that were planted across from a candidate’s house.
A small communist party known for past violence had threatened to disrupt the polls, saying the country needs more political reforms before it can be ready for such elections.
Two years ago, lawmakers passed a new constitution to replace the old system of monarchy, and to lay out the rules for provincial and parliamentary polls. The constitution was considered a major victory, following eight years of political bickering over its terms. But not everyone was happy, and its passage sparked months of protests by ethnic groups in the south that felt shortchanged by how the document divided the country’s districts.
Nearly 50,000 candidates were vying for 13,556 positions on Sunday.
“We are here after 20 years and it is a very important day for all of us,” said Milan Manandhar, a homemaker. “These are the people who are going to be resolving our problems, so we have to make sure we elect the right people.”
The second phase of local polls in the remaining parts of the country will be held in a month.
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