May 22, 2017

All is fair in love and elections...

And so the historic local level elections took place on May 14th, 2017 in the newly-fledged democracy of Nepal. These were the first local elections in 20 years and the first to be held since the promulgation of the 2015 constitution. The second phase of local elections is due to take place on June 14th of this year. This first phase of election was largely peaceful but there were some unfortunate instances of violence. 

Security was heightened across the nation in the days previous to the elections as well as the day of the elections. Local police were on guard at every polling station. The army was on stand-by in case of emergency. Army helicopters were buzzing in and out of our local airport continuously. The Nepali Army did some exercises in our district with live ammo. (I suppose that was to let everybody know they're ready for business if need be.)  I really wasn't too thrilled listening to gunfire and helicopters every morning. Russian-made helicopters are NOISY!

Here's a list from a local newspaper of all the known groups and individuals threatening to destabilize the elections. These are the usual folks who believe the end justifies the means here in Nepal. And threaten they did. Taunts of strikes, boycotts, arson, bombings, abductions, mob attacks, and even murder or assassination were heard throughout the land. After the decade long Maoist uprising most Nepalis are fairly jaded about this sort of animosity. 

Some of those folks made good on those threats. A number of improvised explosive devices were found in various places across the nation on the days leading up to and on the day of the election. Above you see the Nepalese Army’s bomb disposal team detonating two explosive devices on election day. They were planted across from a candidate’s house in Bhaktapur. A Maoist cadre planted a pressure cooker bomb and several other suspicious devices along the main East-West Prithvi highway the day before the elections. Citizens who were heading to their home districts from Kathmandu to cast their votes via the highway were stranded for three hours until the devices were removed. One person was killed while 20 others were injured in the Powati Polling Centre in Dolakha district when police opened fire to control a mob that tried to disrupt the election. In Kalikot, activists of the Netra Bikram Chand-led Communist Party of Nepal seized a ballot box and set it on fire at Naraharinath Village Council on the evening of election day. The National Human Rights Commission stated that ward chairman candidate of the CPN (Maoist Centre) Prem Bahadur Rimal was abducted by an unidentified group. Minor clashes were reported also from eight other polling stations in Gairimudi, Marbu, Jhule, Jafe, Shahare, and Melung. 

Photo: Rishi Ram Baral
Despite all the ruckus most Nepalis seemed really excited, unafraid, and proud to vote. An amazing estimate of 71-73% voter turnout was witnessed during this election! Above you see citizens of our town at a poll station in a local secondary school. Everyone waited patiently and eagerly in line to vote. Army helicopters were used to carry ballot boxes from the country's remote northern regions to the nearest towns.

“The election was largely peaceful and people voted with enthusiasm,” the National Human Rights Commission said in a statement on Sunday evening. The NHRC had deployed 42 monitoring teams in the districts. -The Kathmandu Post

I'm not certain most Westerners would agree with the NHRC's assessment of a largely peaceful election. Nor would most Westerners dare to venture out into such potentially hostile environs to vote willingly. Western media would most likely be screeching and howling about this 24/7 for a month. Here in Nepal it's just business as usual.

The votes are still being counted as I write this. Vote counting stopped at Ward 32 in Kathmandu Metropolitan City due to dispute between election employees and representatives of political parties yesterday. Political parties at the vote counting center accused the employees of writing down different numbers than what was announced while counting. Ayodhee Prasad Yadav has given assurances that final results of the first phase of local level elections held on last Sunday will be published within one week. Mr Yadav went on to say-

“But why are not the people who stayed silent when the elections did not happen for 20 long years showing any patience for one more week now,” he questioned, “I am surprised.” -onlinekhabar

Us foreigners stayed locked within the compound for a few days. Most businesses were closed and strikes/bandhs were being called on and off repeatedly right up to election day. All our vehicles were locked up inside with us lest anyone decide to enforce a strike by torching. Nothing exciting happened in our neighborhood though. As you can see in the above photo our local Communist party headquarters was rather festively decorated yet sedate. In fact the streets were empty as most of our neighbors had returned to their villages to vote.

Lastly, a fearless fashion-loving ingenue looks out perplexedly upon her brave new democracy. That's right little one, it's all yours!

Some parting words of wisdom,

A fool and his money are soon elected
-Will Rogers
Calmly currying on,