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Nepal to hold first local elections in 20 years

Coalition gov’t pushes ahead with dates for 1st local polls since civil war despite opposition threat to protest

Ekip   | 21.02.2017
Nepal to hold first local elections in 20 years Nepal Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal

Katmandu

By Deepak Adhikari

KATHMANDU, Nepal

Nepal will hold its first local elections in 20 years in mid-May, the government has announced, raising hopes of political stability in the deeply divided country.

Nepal held its last polls for local bodies in 1997, but allowed the positions to remain vacant when the terms ended in 2002.

At the time the impoverished country had been in the midst of a civil war.

Elections for more than 700 municipalities and village councils will be held May 14, according to an announcement late Monday that followed a series of meetings among ruling party leaders and consultations with the Election Commission.

The coalition government pushed ahead with poll dates despite an opposition threat to protest following a breakdown of talks late Sunday.

The move has paved the way for the government to end a years-long vacuum at the grassroots level, fulfilling a crucial provision of the constitution -- but it has been met with fierce opposition from Samyukta Loktantrik Madhesi Morcha, an alliance of seven regional parties.

In response to the announcement, the group -- which had demanded a constitutional amendment before the announcing of poll dates -- released a statement saying it would shut down a vast swath of area in the southern plains Wednesday.

“The announcement of dates for election is unfortunate for Nepali people. This is against the constitution,” said a statement signed by the group’s seven leaders. “This has been done without determining the number of positions [for local bodies].”

It added that the dates could not be accepted as they were set based on an “unscientific” and “incomplete” report.

“We are forced to continue protests unless the government amends the constitution according to its agreement with us,” the statement stressed.

While the civil war ended with a 2006 peace deal, the fractured politics have drifted, with frequent changes of government and violent protests among ethnic groups demanding rights and greater representation in state institutions.

Nepal promulgated a constitution in September 2015 despite the protests of the Madhesis -- a minority group from the country’s southern plains -- which left more than 50 people dead.

Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who came to power in August last year pledging to hold elections, called Monday’s announcement “historic”, expressing keenness to meet the Madhesis’ demands.

“We are committed to hold elections. We will table an amendment to constitution soon,” he told reporters after a cabinet meeting. “We are headed to the polls and I urge everyone to support us in this endeavor.”

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