Polls opened in Nepal's capital Kathmandu and the country's southern plains on Thursday, marking the second round of voting for the national parliament and provincial assemblies since a new constitution took effect two years ago.
The polls are a major step toward implementing the new constitution, which aims to empower marginalised communities, including women and Dalits - members of the so-called untouchable caste - by ensuring greater representation in state institutions.
The landmark polls cap the country's transformation from a Hindu monarchy to a secular republic, following a 10-year Maoist insurgency that left more than 16,000 people dead.
Years of political instability have stymied economic growth in the impoverished nation, which in recent years has suffered from natural disasters including a destructive earthquake and floods.
A majority of more than 12.2 million voters are expected to cast their ballots in 45 districts in the country's middle hills and its southern plains which border India.
Long queues of voters snaked through a roadside polling centre in Balkot neighbourhood on the outskirts of Kathmandu.
Govinda Paudel, a 62-year-old pensioner who had just voted, hoped the polls would lead toward political stability and economic growth.
"They gave us the constitution. Now we want them to deliver peace and development. We have voted for them many times before, but this time there's a reason to be optimistic," he said as he joined fellow voters in the morning sun.
Fears of violence were raised ahead of the polls opening by a preceding series of explosions targeting candidates.
On Monday, a former health minister and a candidate for the ruling party were among 10 people wounded in a roadside explosion on the outskirts of Kathmandu.
Police have arrested more than 800 people from the Communist Party of Nepal, a splinter Maoist group, though the outfit hasn't claimed responsibility for the attacks.
Nepal's interior ministry has installed a three-tier security setup, deploying tens of thousands of officers to guard some 15000 polling centres.
Nepal was prompted by security concerns to seal its southern border with India during the elections. It has also banned traffic from roads to prevent vote-rigging.
A close race between the ruling Nepali Congress and an alliance of the Unified Marxist-Leninists (UML) with the Maoists was expected in the polls.
A total of 275 seats in the new federal parliament and 550 seats in seven provincial assemblies were up for grabs across the country.
The country's mountainous districts had earlier voted in the first phase of polls on November 26.
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