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KATHMANDU - Nepal votes in local elections on Sunday for the first time in 20 years, a major step in the young republic's difficult transition to democracy more than a decade after the end of its civil war.
The government hopes the elections, staggered over two phases, will lead to a general election later in the year. A recent dispute between the poor Himalayan nation's Maoist-led government and the head of the supreme court had threatened to derail voting.Nepal has suffered from years of political instability since emerging from a decade-long Maoist insurgency that ended in 2006 and the abolition of the monarchy two years later.
Its democratic journey took a hit in 2015 when some regional groups rejected a constitution approved by bigger political parties, saying it concentrated power among the hill elite that has long dominated politics.
Analysts say the absence of local-level elected government bodies has delayed development work, boosted corruption and undermined efforts to rebuild areas devastated by two earthquakes in 2015, which killed nearly 9,000 people and displaced three million.
Survivors of the country's worst disaster on record still languish in temporary shelters made from tarpaulin sheets and bamboo. The government has been criticized for failing to spend $4.1 billion pledged for rebuilding.
"Politicians are coming to us asking for votes. But we'll only vote for those who give us a permanent house," Bikram Prajapati, 40, said from his zinc-roofed hut in a suburb of the capital city, Kathmandu.
The final phase of the local polls is set for June 14, when the restive southern plains, home to ethnic minority groups demanding greater representation, will head to the ballot box.
Fourteen million Nepalis are eligible to vote.
Prime Minister Prachanda, a former Maoist rebel commander who still goes by his nom de guerre, is expected to stand down after the vote under a power-sharing deal with Sher Bahadur Deuba, chief of the Nepali Congress party.
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