KATHMANDU, Nepal (AP) — Nepalese were voting 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 positions have been occupied by government-appointed bureaucrats because elections could not be held amid a 10-year-old communist insurgency and years of delay in drafting a new constitution.
"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.
The first phase of voting in half of the Himalayan nation on Sunday has been mostly peaceful. An army ordnance disposal team safely detonated two explosive devices near capital Kathmandu that were planted across from a candidate's house.
A small communist party known for past violence has threatened to disrupt the polls saying it the country needs more political reform 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 are vying for 13,556 positions.
"We are here after 20 years and it is 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 remaining part of the country will be held after a month.