September 18, 2017 / 7:15 AM / a year ago

Nepal holds final round of municipal polls, ethnic grievances remain

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Nepalis began voting in the final round of municipal elections on Monday, an important step before a general election in November that will complete a near decade-long democratic transition after the abolition of Nepal’s monarchy.

A man casts his vote into a ballot box during the final round of local election of municipalities and villages representatives in Janakpur September 18, 2017. REUTERS/Ishwar Chandra Jha

The final round of voting covers parts of the restive southern plains that border India and are dominated by the ethnic Madhesi people. More than 2.6 million people are eligible to choose more than 6,000 representatives in 136 municipal, officials said.

Voting in the area had been delayed since June after the Rastriya Janata Party Nepal (RJPN), which dominates the area, called for a boycott of the poll, a call that was only partially successful.

Scores of people were killed in 2015 and 2016, mainly in clashes with police, in protests by the Madhesis against a new constitution that they said left them marginalised and favoured those living in the hills.

The Madhesis are demanding a unified homeland and greater participation in state organs, including parliament, the judiciary, bureaucracy, and the national army.

However, lawmakers rejected a government proposal last month to amend the constitution and meet some of the Madhesis’ demands.

Pressure had mounted on the RJPN to take part in the municipal polls after some of its members quit the party and took part in the second round of polls in June. The first round was held in May.

“We’ll now take our demands to the people through this election and get them passed in future with their support,” Sarbendra Nath Shukla, a senior RJPN leader, told Reuters.

The municipal elections, the first since 1997, are an attempt by the national government to restore democracy at the local level after a decade-long civil war that ended in 2006 and years of instability after the monarchy was abolished in 2008.

They will serve as a barometer of public opinion ahead of the Nov. 26 general election.

Editing by Malini Menon; Editing by Paul Tait

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