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

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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