Nepal election marred by violence, little hope for political certainty years after fall of monarchy and a civil war

A Nepalese election worker carries ballot boxes to an office of the electoral commission for vote-counting after polling stations closed in Kathmandu on November 19, 2013. Getty

Kathmandu A bomb blast wounded three people outside a polling station Tuesday, as Nepalis went to cast ballots in an election meant to offer a second chance to end years of political uncertainty in the isolated Himalayan nation.

An 8-year-old boy was seriously wounded in the blast and two other women received minor injuries, according to the Associated Press. The bombing took place as voters lined up to cast their ballots in the national election, for which about 12.5 million Nepalis were registered to take part.

Observers said the country wasn’t as tense in the lead up to this election as it was five years ago, during the last attempt, but at least 30 people were injured in attacks and small bombings in the days before the vote.

Other says the bombings are really just a protest tactic aimed at disturbing the public psyche, rather than outright physical destruction.  

“They’re trying to maintain this threat among us,” said Prazya Karki, a Kathmandu voter when asked about the security situation. “If you go for this voting thing and all, we might get killed, things like that.”

But Karki said the danger didn’t stop her from casting her first-ever ballot on Tuesday.

“They’re trying to scare us, but it’s not going to stop us anymore.  We have faced enough of this.  And we want better things to happen,” Karki said.

By the end of the day, the election commission said turnout was better than 70 percent -- the largest in the region.

As a safety measure, the government banned alcohol sales and most vehicles from the roads.  Police and army units were highly visible in the capital city, patrolling on foot or riding in the back of pickup trucks on the traffic-free roads.

Some political parties argued that Tuesday’s election was invalid and called for voters to boycott the polling. There were strikes during the week leading up to the vote. In Kathmandu, an increasing number of shops and businesses closed their doors as the election approached.

Tuesday’s vote is seen in part as a referendum on the stewardship of the United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), and other parties after their election in 2008. They were tasked with writing a constitution following the fall of the monarchy and end of a decade-long civil war. But the parties ultimately failed to reach a deal and Tuesday’s election was organized.

But disillusionment with years of political uncertainty created opportunities for some independent candidates.

Ujwal Thapa is one such candidate. He decided to run in the election after becoming frustrated with political scene in the country.  He believes voters are tired of the status quo.

“What Nepalis are looking for is a fresh alternative…  (one) that is full of doers, rather than talkers,” Thapa said.

Thapa says he wants to change how politics is practiced in the country.

“Instead of ideology based politics, we’re concentrating on issue based politics. So we’re trying to move the whole agenda from ideology to issues.”

Mukti Pradhan, a former attorney general running on the Maoist ticket, didn’t seem threatened by the smaller parties or independent candidates.

“People support us,” Pradhan said days before the ballots were cast. He pointed to the Maoists’ transition from an insurgency to the nation’s leading political party as one of the reasons why voters should continue to believe in his group. 

He said independent candidates and small parties were beneficial to the Nepali system because they “personally represent” some marginalized groups. 

While voters might pick non-establishment candidates as a protest for political inaction, it also adds another layer of uncertainty to the landscape.

“They will dilute the vote of the major political parties and also serve as new allies for any major parties who would rather pander to their platforms than ally with another major party,” said George Varughese, the Nepal country representative for the Asia Foundation. 

When the new government forms, “some strange but perhaps more stable coalitions are possible,” Varughese said.

A clear picture of Tuesday’s winners and losers won’t emerge for days, if not weeks, as the votes are counted.

Upasar Ssasr said he’s a “little bit optimistic” about the future in Nepal, but doesn’t believe this new batch of lawmakers will solve the political crisis quickly. 

“I don’t think that a constitution will come out of this Constituent Assembly. I don’t think so,” he said matter-of-factly before casting his voting.

A deal might be reached, he guessed, in three or four more years.

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