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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