Nepalis began voting in the final round of parliamentary elections yesterday, a key step to complete a near decade-long democratic transition after the abolition of the centuries-old monarchy and the end of a civil war against Maoist guerrillas.
The landmark election is being closely watched by neighbouring India and China, each hoping for a win for their domestic allies in the small Himalayan nation.
Thousands of police and soldiers were deployed in the capital Kathmandu and the volatile southern lowlands for the vote after pre-election violence that left one dead and dozens injured.
The first phase of the election was held on Nov 26, with final results not expected for about another 10 days because of the cumbersome vote-counting procedure, officials said.
"Hundreds of activists, including from a splinter group of Maoists opposed to the election, have been detained for creating trouble," army spokesman Nain Raj Dahal said.
More than 15 million people were eligible to vote for the 275-member parliament - 165 through first-past-the-post and 110 on a proportional basis in both rounds.
The newly-elected assemblies will be tasked with naming their provinces, choosing capitals and negotiating budgets with Kathmandu -- all sensitive issues that could rekindle tensions in the ethnically-diverse south, reported AFP.
"The country will achieve political stability after the election ... and will move ahead solidly on the path of economic and social prosperity," President Bidhya Devi Bhandari said in a statement.
Nepal has seen 10 government changes in as many years. Instability has given rise to corruption, retarded growth and slowed recovery from a 2015 earthquake that killed 9,000 people, reported Reuters.
"I voted in hopes for a stable government that can concentrate on development and create jobs so our children don't have to go abroad to work," Binita Karki, 57, said after casting her ballots in a Kathmandu suburb, where armed soldiers stood nearby. Her son works on a construction site in Qatar.
The election pits the centrist Nepali Congress party of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, who heads a loose alliance that includes the Madhesi parties from Nepal's southern plains and former royalists, against a tight-knit alliance of former Maoists and the moderate Communist UML party.
The Nepali Congress party is considered a pro-India group, while the opposition alliance is seen as closer to China.
The national election comes as China is expanding its influence across Asia, including by ramping up investments in Nepal — a development that analysts say has rattled India, long the dominant Asian power in the country, reported The Washington Post.
India's influence in Nepal was unrivalled for decades. The countries share an open border, thriving trade links and common religions and customs. But in the past several years, China has redoubled investments in Nepal, building up infrastructure that could increase trade between the two countries, and making plans to expand Nepal's vast untapped hydropower infrastructure, which could yield large returns — and displace India's dominance here.
Nepal emerged from a civil war in 2006 and abolished its 239-year-old Hindu monarchy two years later.