KATHMANDU, Nov 27: The first round of the two-phase parliamentary and provincial assembly elections conducted on Sunday witnessed 65 percent voter turnout, according to the Election Commission (EC). The election body said the voter turnout estimate was preliminary and was likely to increase as the final details are collected.
As part of concluding crucial elections, the EC conducted the first phase of elections in 37 electoral constituencies of 32 mountain and hilly districts of the country. The polls, according to the election commissioners and poll observers, remained largely peaceful except for few sporadic clashes. They said except for few minor clashes between cadres of rival parties, no major poll violence was reported in the elections.
Voters were seen so desperate to cast their votes that some of them reached the polling centers well before the voting started at 7 am. Voters in the high-Himalayan regions, however, were forced to stay inside their houses until early afternoon due to extreme cold and snowfall.
Polls were conducted peacefully except at two polling centers in Rukum. The voting process was affected when an unknown person poured acid in a ballot box at Ratna Higher Secondary School of Bafikot Rural Municipality. A similar incident occurred at Rastriya Higher Secondary School, Gattasaina of Aathbiskot, Rukum.
The local election authority has been asked to conduct the re-poll at the earliest.
Some Nepali Congress cadres attempted to capture booths in Jharlang of Dhading. The voting, which was halted for few hours, resumed after the local authorities deployed security personnel including the army to the disputed area. Minor clashes took place in Dolakha, Ramechhap, Bajura, Bajhang, Kalikot and Dhading without impacting the elections.
Voters, however, seemed less enthusiastic to vote this election as compared to the previous elections. The voter turnout in the local election was recorded 74.16 percent and the voter turnout in the 2013 Constituent Assembly elections was 79 percent.
Some voters have already left their respective villages in search of jobs while others did not seem to give much priority to the parliamentary elections. This is because leaders contesting the local elections are more familiar to locals than parliamentary and provincial election candidates, according to election officials. It was reported that some unemployed youths have left for India and the Gulf countries seeking job opportunities after completing their seasonal works.
This is the first parliamentary and provincial election under the new constitution promulgated in September 2015 which ended years of chronic political instability that emerged with Maoists' armed struggle against the government in 1996.
Altogether 702 candidates are in the fray for the 111 parliamentary seats -- 37 members of central parliament and 74 members of provincial assemblies. The second round of election is slated for December 7.
Ballots of the first phase elections will be taken to the district headquarters and the vote counting will begin only when the second phase election completes.
With the completion of these elections, a 175-member central parliament will be elected in the center while 350 members of provincial assemblies will be elected in seven provinces for the next five years. The provincial states will be named and they will have own laws to run own government. The local polls conducted earlier this year after a hiatus of 20 years have already elected the chiefs and members of 753 local units.
Peaceful polls: Observers
Election observers have termed the polls largely peaceful. They said the voter turnout remained high where participation of elderly people, physically-disabled, nursing mothers and pregnant mothers was encouraging. "Except for few cases of minor clashes, the election remained peaceful and the voter turnout remained high as expected," said Mukti Rijal, general secretary of the Democracy and Election Concern Nepal.
Former chief election commissioner Neel Kantha Uprety said no major problem was witnessed during the election. "I witnessed a higher participation of women than men in the polling stations. Not just women and senior citizens but physically challenged people were also taken to the polling booths for voting," said former election chief Uprety after inspecting the polls in Baglung and Myagdi districts, adding,"This has once again proved the peoples' collective dedication to democracy."
Voters believe the polls will open the door for a stable and accountable government in the coming days. "More importantly, this will end the protracted political transition and a new era of stability and prosperity will begin, bringing back democracy to the right track," said Uprety.
Many voters are hopeful of stability as major political parties have formed pre-poll alliances 'for the sake of stability' and to focus on the country's development.
Unlike the previous practice of contesting the election separately, two major communist parties - CPN-UML and former rebel party UCPN (Maoist) now rebranded as CPN (Maoist Center) - have forged an electoral alliance against the governing Nepali Congress.
Maoists and UML have vowed to garner a majority in the elections and form a communist government. In their joint election manifesto, the two communist parties have promised their voters of merging the parties into one after the elections.
The Nepali Congress, too, has forged an electoral alliance with pro-monarchist Rastriya Prajatantra Party in certain electoral constituencies.