Showing posts with label elections. Show all posts
Showing posts with label elections. Show all posts

Dec 11, 2017

Everything I've Learned about Life: It Goes On

Despite unabated violence here in Nepal-  political freedom prevailed, my garden's growing, cows are mooing, my smartphone got fixed, California's aflame, and elephants don't play polo anymore! Yes, life truly does go on.

Nepal's first post-war parliamentary and provincial elections concluded last Thursday. The two-phase election lays the groundwork for Nepal's transition to a democracy- after the end of a civil war in 2006 and the abolition of the country's 239-year-old Hindu monarchy two years later. According to results released by the Election Commission, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist–Leninist (CPN-UML) has won 59 seats while its alliance partner CPN Maoist- Centre gained 22 seats out of the total 165 seats under the first-past-the-post election system. The new government will likely reinstate Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli (pictured above) as prime minister. The ruling Nepali Congress (which was the largest party in the last election) managed to win only 12 seats according to preliminarytallies. The two winning parties are also considering merging to form the largest communist party in Nepal. Voter turnout is estimated at a "satisfactory" 67 percent among the 15 million eligible voters.

On Monday the winning parties' victory marches and rallies blocked streets and roadways across the nation. Unfortunately there are reports of over 5,000 ballots deemed invalid due to ineffective voter's education. (I'm guessing that means the ballots were improperly filled out.) The final result of the election may not be known until mid-December according to officials. Nepal has suffered a succession of governments over the last 10 years that have been mostly short-lived due to political infighting.

Gardening update: Marigolds are blooming! I planted a large packet of marigold seeds from Kashmir in my garden this Winter. Everything from solid pom pom's to single, double, and triple blooms.  As you can see in the above pics every seed has produced a different flower. The seeds weren't labeled as any particular breed so I'd guess their open pollinated and field collected. Marigolds generally repel soil pests like nematodes and not many insects will eat them so I like to plant them every other season as sort of a natural cleanse for the garden.

Roses in December? How weird is that? These local roses in my garden are almost more like camellias in form. Their color is just as eye-searingly beautiful in person.

This is mallow. When I was last in Kashmir I was served a tasty stir-fry of mallow leaves. I had no idea the mallow plant is completely edible. Mallow is a common weed seen by freeways in my native California. An online search revealed that several Middle Eastern cultures eat mallow served stewed or stir-fried. Where have I been? Anyway, my in-laws sent some seeds from Kashmir and I planted them - recipe soon!

In the ongoing drama of our local vacant lot: This lovely lady and her extremely vocal estranged child have been spending the better part of their days in our neighborhood vacant lot. I went out to see what all the ruckus was. I brought some leftover rice as a peace offering. With those pointed horns atop half a ton of possibly peeved bovine it's best to be careful.

I'm guessing the problem is that Madame Pointy Horns is not allowing Junior here to nurse any longer. The reason Mdm. Pointy Horns no longer wishes to feed Junior is that's she's due to have another calf in a few weeks. Junior is voicing his protestation to this situation LOUDLY. I brought another bowl of rice, cut up fruit, vegetable trimmings, and stale biscuits for him. He now shows up at our front gate at 8 AM every morning demanding his treats and a neck scratch LOUDLY.

In other news: Chitwan, Nepal will be celebrating it's 14th annual Elephant Festival on  December 26th through 30th. The five-day event features an elephant walk, elephant calf football, elephant beauty contest, elephant picnic, and elephant painting. Elephant polo will not be played at the festival this year as it has been deemed to be animal cruelty. Elephant polo originated in 1982, the bizarre idea of two British entrepreneurs, Jim Edwards and James Manclark. Edwards had established Tiger Tops, a tourism venture which offered elephant safaris in 1961, and which has since become a family-run ecotourism lodge in Royal Chitwan National Park. It was a rather slow sport which seemed to truly annoy the elephants. About three years ago they had to switch from using soccer balls to regular hockey balls. The elephants figured out if they popped the soccer balls by stepping on them the game would stop. And if more soccer balls were provided the elephants popped them also. The long and flexible bamboo mallets would often break too. I agree with the elephants: GAME OVER!

Mr Gardner I presume...

I fixed my phone with a little help from a friend! My Samsung Galaxy Zoom smartphone developed some glitch that would not allow me to use the camera about 3 weeks ago. We took it to the local Samsung dealer whom said he needed to send the phone to Delhi to be fixed. Two weeks later the phone wasn't fixed nor did the dealer send it to Delhi. I bravely took matters into my own hands and tried to Google how to fix the blasted thing. Eventually I ventured onto the maelstrom of YouTube and found some videos by a Mr Ricardo Gardener on how to fix various gizmos from phones to laptops. (No this is not THE famous Jamaican footballer Ricardo Gardner.) Not only did I fix my phone using a video on his YouTube Channel but I sorted the neighbor kid's HP laptop that wouldn't start. Woohoo! If you're in need of some DIY repair work on home electronics I highly recommend Mr Gardener's YouTube channel.

California's on fire again. Not surprising after many years of drought and subdivisions being built in forested and overgrown areas that are no longer grazed nor control burned. For some reason my friends in California all wish to email me photos of my former home. Here's the latest photo of what's left of my former northern California house. The front lawn still looks fairly decent. Apparently the houses just across the street were untouched. Fortunately the Gujarati family I sold it too escaped unharmed. Over 2,000 residences were destroyed on this fire in October, 2017. Un-freaking-believable!

Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life. 
-Omar Khayyam

Ciao for now,

Dec 3, 2017

All is fair in love & democracy

Nepalis began voting in a two-phase election for a new federal parliament and provincial assembly last week with the army on high alert. These are first parliamentary polls in Nepal since 1999. Most Nepalis are hopeful this will complete their nation's long journey from a monarchy to an independent federal republic. Unfortunately violence blamed on a rogue Maoist group brought back memories of the ruinous instability Nepal was hoping to leave behind after a bloody civil war a decade ago.

Every time I see these guards holding a rifle like that I cringe.
I guess they train them to do that but I was taught proper gun safety is to point that rifle straight up or down.
The tiny Himalayan nation of Nepal is currently conducting federal parliamentary and provincial assembly elections for the first time after the promulgation of it's new constitution. The first phase of elections were held in 32 of 77 districts on Sunday, November 26th and comprised the mountainous and hilly districts. The second phase of elections will be held on Thursday, December 7th in the remaining 45 districts. Voters are set to fill more than 800 seats in Nepal’s parliament and state assemblies.

Nepal-China border crossing

Both election days were declared national holidays.
The Nepal-China and Nepal-India borders are sealed for 72 hours prior to each polling date. Even the sale of alcohol was banned for 72 hours prior to the election in some districts. Active campaigning is also banned for three days before polls open. Over 300,000 security personnel have been deployed at polling stations.

Old and young doing their civic duty.
This election is very important because whomever wins at the national level will shape the newly formed state institutions. This new balance of power will elect the upper house of the national parliament and the new president of the republic. That's why the stakes are high - not only for Nepalis but those who want to have control over developments in Nepal. The election is also being construed as a face-off between India and China at the ballot box.

Election posters everywhere!
The primary contest in this election is between the Nepali Congress party (NC) led by Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and a new alliance of the Communist Party of Nepal (UML) led by K. P. Sharma Oli with Maoists led by “Prachanda” Pushpa Kamal Dahal.  K.P. Sharma Oli and "Prachanda" Pushpa Kamal Dahal are former prime ministers as well as communist party leaders. The NC party is said to be preferred by India. The recently formed left alliance of UML and Prachanda led Maoists is said to be linked with China. Both India and China are looking to benefit from Nepal’s potential as a source of hydropower.

An IED made from a pressure cooker.
Unfortunately the elections have been marred by sporadic violence that continues unabated. Days before the elections started a Maoist splinter group began the attacks. A leader in the rogue Maoist group has gone on record stating, “We want this election to be dismissed.” A report compiled by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) details 107 cases of IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) detonated across the country since November 15th. Surprisingly this has only resulted in 38 injuries and one death so far. The Nepalese Army has reported defusing over 30 IEDS also.

An IED made from a pipe socket- if you didn't look closely you might think it's a soda or beer can.
Reuters and the New York Times have reported land mines and Maoist militants opening fire on politicians- I have not seen, heard, nor read any evidence of this. There was a blast in our downtown shopping area that was not reported on by the media and another IED was defused nearby. Most of the IEDs have been targeted at candidates' homes, offices, and vehicles- well away from heavily touristed areas. I have read reports of ballot boxes being destroyed by fire or other means too.

Here's all the election activity by our house- a taxi cab festooned with party flags blaring campaign slogans from loudspeakers. A political rally was broken up by police at the end of our street for blocking the road. Election rallies and the huge crowds they draw blocking main roads has been a problem during this election. It takes hours just to drive across town due to the impeded traffic. It has gotten got so bad the NHRC declared that political rallies that block roads are a violation of human rights. I didn't know that - I thought they were just a public nuisance!

This was by far the most unique election publicity campaign to date. A camel with cart and driver was hired by supporters of Independent candidate Raj Bahadur Chaudhary in Kapilvastu Constituency-1 (B) (in southern Nepal). The story was reported in the Kathmandu Post. The camel is named Sher Mohammed and his handler is Mr Abdul Mangal of Ajmer, India. It took four months for Mr Mangal and Sher Mohammed to walk all the way from their home state of Rajasthan to Nepal. The candidate and his helpers rode about in the cart handing out flyers to curious onlookers. It seems the children were most excited to see a real camel as they'd only seen pictures of one in books before. Sher Mohammed looks fairly nonplussed (as camels usually do).

The next phase of the election is due to take place this Thursday, December 7th. Our district will go to the polls in this phase. Unfortunately incidents of blasts targeting candidates has continued. I've not heard of any attacks in our district and we are told the Nepalese Army has increased its presence in order to curb anti-poll activities. It has been unusually quiet in our neighborhood. We're not making any trips into town unless absolutely necessary until after the final phase of the election on Thursday. 

Calmly currying on,

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,

May 8, 2017

Of the People, By the People, For the People...

The Himalayan nation of Nepal will hold it's first local elections in 20 years on May 14th. This is quite the milestone in Nepal's long and difficult transition from monarchy to democracy! The local campaign trail came right to our door as you can see in the above photo. Trucks with huge loudspeakers spouting slogans, catchy jingles, joyous hymns of comradery, and numerous promises have been cruising every street and neighborhood here for the past week.

The banner on the truck with the portraits of candidates in the pending election is called a "hoarding" in South Asia. I had never heard that term before living here. But we don't see these sorts of group portraitures advertising political parties in the US. About eight trucks from different parties have been coming by our house daily. Those loudspeakers are LOUD. They do play traditional Nepali music for a few minutes between bouts of rhetoric though. That's a nice touch.

I thought at first these were just party supporters following the campaign truck. Upon closer inspection I noticed these were the candidates pictured in the hoarding! No wonder they were so thrilled to have their picture taken. These Communists don't have horns and aren't waving AK-47's like my dad said. They sort of look like upstanding, middle class, middle aged folks.

Most of the equipment for the elections is being supplied by China and India. Nepal bought the 30,000 ballot boxes you see in the above photo from China. China is also providing stationery, pens, markers, thumbtacks, clips, staplers, staples, scissors, glue sticks, calculators, ink pads, punchers, and stamp pads. Motorcycles and curtains for the polling booths are being brought in from India.

Not everyone is happy about the elections though. Nepal was declared a federal democratic republic in 2007, ending it's 240 year-old monarchy. The interim constitution of 2007 had provisions for 10 to 14 states to accommodate all the various ethnic, indigenous, and caste groups in the structure of power. But the new constitution passed in 2015 reduced the number of states to only seven. 

Madhesi protestors in Saptari
Under these new boundaries it is claimed the upper caste Khas Arya will have the majority in 6 out of the seven states. The Madhesis, the Tharu, and the Kiranti are ethnic groups from Nepal's southern plains region that have been protesting the new 2015 constitution. Since 2007 the Madhesis (who are more than one-third of the country's population) have been demanding political and economic representation in proportion to their population. Although Madhesis make up  more than one-third of the country's population they only hold 12 percent of government positions including the police and army. The Khas Arya question the loyalty of the Madhesis to Nepal, on account of their proximity to and close relations with India. The Madhesis and Tharu accuse the hill people of economic and political domination. According to Deependra Jha, a Supreme Court lawyer based in Kathmandu and a Madhesi, 

"The hill-dominated political class has gerrymandered on boundary issues to ensure that Khas Arya [the upper caste hill people] remain a majority in six out of seven federal states." (Al Jazeera)

(The Himalayan)
Madhesis have vowed to boycott and disrupt any election in their region unless their grievances are addressed. Above you see a Madhesi protest in the southern district of that took place last week on Monday, March 6th. On September 23rd, 2015 the Madhesis led a 2 month blockade of the Indian border that caused a huge shortage of fuel, cooking gas, cooking oil, medicines, and other supplies in landlocked Nepal. Prices still haven't come back down on cooking gas. 

 President Bandari of Nepal and PM Modi of India   via
Experts are hopeful that these local elections will create a government that is more accountable to the people. The new local governments will be responsible for administering schools, health posts, and basic infrastructure. The Nepal Election Commission was given under three months to prepare for this vote and is racing to prepare ballots and enforce rules. The NEC must also educate the people on which jurisdictions they live in as the boundary lines were redrawn by the new constitution.

The atmosphere in Nepal is charged these days! Politicians are making inane and inflammatory remarks, riling up the base constituency, and salaciously skirting election rules. I am proud to report that democracy is alive and well in Nepal!

And of course His Imperial Majesty the Baacha Khan and his mama Chinger aren't too concerned about anything. 

So it's sunny and steamy up here in the Himalayas. The weather forecast warns of stray thunderstorms which is certainly better than last month's continual barrage. Oh wait, it's pouring buckets again!

Anything you'd like me to write about in regards to Nepal? I was thinking of doing a few posts about the different ethnic groups here like the Tamang, the Gurung, the Sherpa, etc. Most people mistakenly believe Nepal is one single ethnicity. There are actually over 150 different languages spoken and several different cultures in this tiny nation.

Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.
Sir Winston Churchill (1874 - 1965), Hansard, November 11, 1947

Calmly currying on,

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