Nepal postpones local elections for a second time after ethnic minority groups threaten boycott

A Nepalese election worker carrying a sealed ballot box after polling stations closed in Kathmandu on May 14. The second round of voting has been postponed.
A Nepalese election worker carrying a sealed ballot box after polling stations closed in Kathmandu on May 14. The second round of voting has been postponed.PHOTO: AFP

KATHMANDU (AFP) - Nepal on Monday (May 29) postponed local elections for a second time after failing to appease ethnic minority groups who threatened to boycott the polls.

The elections were seen as a key step in a drawn-out peace process after a decade-long civil war which ended in 2006. They were the first local polls in 20 years.

"The government has decided to postpone the second phase of the local polls for 10 days, hoping the agitating parties will also take part," senior government minister Ramesh Lekhak said.

The elections were originally supposed to be held on one day. They were split into two rounds following threats of a boycott from the Madhesi, a minority group living along the border with India.

The first round was held in mid-May in three of Nepal's seven provinces, with the remaining round scheduled for June 14.

The Madhesi have long been demanding that Nepal's provincial boundaries be redrawn through an amendment to the Constitution, and wanted the change pushed through before the local elections.

The lowland people, seen by some in Nepal as more closely aligned to India, say the existing federal borders deprive them of fair political representation.

"Our main demand was Constitution amendment, not the postponement of the poll date," Laxman Lal Karna, the head of one of the largest Madhesi parties, said. "We cannot assure our participation in the polls unless the government amends the new Constitution."

Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who resigned last week as Nepal's prime minister just 10 months after taking office, had made amending the Constitution a key pledge.

Observers are uncertain whether a hastily formed new government can win enough support in Parliament to push through a constitutional amendment before the next round of voting.

The amendment is fiercely opposed by the main opposition party, which has successfully blocked a vote on a revision.

The controversial Constitution was passed in 2015, nearly a decade after the end of the civil war.

It was meant to heal deep divisions arising from the brutal Maoist insurgency, but instead sparked bloody protests that claimed at least 50 lives.

The local polls were supposed to be the final step in the peace deal that ended the civil war in 2006. They were to pave the way for provincial polls and then national elections.