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Nepal Municipal Elections: A Bit of Joke

Nepal Municipal Elections: A Bit of Joke


By Siddhi B. Ranjitkar

"Sincerity will never harm you"
- Gyles Brandreth

The king's government has been making the mockery of democracy and democratic electoral processes holding the municipal elections against the will of Nepalis and repeatedly telling the world the municipal election is a success through the state-run media, and installing the so-called unscrupulously elected officials at various municipalities. The world community told the king's government that the elections held against the will of the people was not legitimate. However, the ministers of the king's government including the Vice-chairman of the Council of Minister said that they did not need to heed the international community's opinions on the municipal elections, and they would hold parliamentary elections in the similar fashion too.

What a government is it that could fake the elections and install their people at the various positions of the municipalities? Some candidates of political parties other than the party of the home Minister taking part in the municipal elections came out openly to say that the Home Minister faked the elections making candidates of his party victorious in the elections. They claimed that the Home Minister used the king's government machinery to bring the election results in his favor; and the Home Minister instructed the police and army men to work for the candidates of his party. However, the Home Minister quickly muzzled them.

The Indian Government, the US, the UK, the EU and Japan came out openly to say to the king's government that the municipal elections without the participation of the seven-party alliance that held more than 90% of the seats in the dissolved House of Representatives were meaningless to them. The EU even went one step ahead saying that the municipal elections were a step backward from democracy.

Referring to the February 8 civic polls in Nepal, Commonwealth Secretary General Don Mckinnon said, "There was a turnout of less than 20 percent and no participation of major political parties. It is just not credible". The Commonwealth’s criticism followed the sharp reactions of India, USA, UK, EU and Japan to the municipal polls.

Vice-chairman of the Council of Ministers, Dr Tulsi Giri said, "The international community including India, US, Japan, EU and UK have been lying and their comments on the municipal elections are a part of a ploy to destabilize Nepal." Dr. Giri said the government would hold Parliamentary Elections in the same manner as they did for the municipalities. ''The Election Commission will call the political parties to participate in the elections and it would set a time frame for them to file the nominations. If they refuse to take part in the elections, the process will still go ahead just like in the municipal polls,'' he said. Dr. Tulsi Giri has been just like a clown entertaining to audience from the stage put up by the king's henchmen, and telling the audience funny stories about the politics of Nepal. Sometimes, his stories go to such an extent that if they were not jokes then he must me an insane to say such things.

Former Election Commissioner (EC) of Nepal, Prof. Birendra P. Mishra said that the municipal polls held on February 8, 2006 were invalid; although the polls were held pursuant to the existing laws of the country; they were invalid because it was against the spirit of the Constitution of Nepal of 1990. Prof. Mishra claimed that the low voters' turnout in the polls proved that the election had no public support. He further said that the polls held without the participation of the major political parties could not be legitimate; and the EC instead of holding municipal elections in such a situation should advise the government to defer the polls. Former Member of the Election Commission, Biswhoman Shrestha said that even if Nepal's law did not clearly state what sorts of elections would be legitimate, the municipal elections held on February 8 were not legitimate by any standard of elections.

Leaders of the seven-party alliance said that they did not recognize the municipal polls and the deceitfully elected candidates as genuine people's representatives. They said that most of the votes in the elections were proxy; most of the voters went to poll under compulsion; the government made the state employees mandatory to vote. Most of the voters were civil servants, police, army men and their family members. They claimed that not more than 5% of the total votes cast on February 8 were legally recognizable.

Despite the seven-party alliance's and the international community's rejection of the municipal polls held by the king's government, Chief Election Commissioner Keshav Raj Rajbhandari defended the municipal polls as a success and valid. Mr. Rajbhandari questioned from where the international community drew the rights to question the credibility of the municipal elections in Nepal. He claimed that the successful municipal elections paved the way for putting the derailed democratic process back on track, and a step forward to holding parliamentary elections next year. The Chief Election Commissioner had no answer to the question how the Home Minister Kamal Thapa could vote in two places - one in Kathmandu and another in Hetauda. However, he assured that the EC would look into the reports on a group of people supporting the party of Home Minister Thapa voted in various polling booths in Kathmandu.

The EC held polls for 618 seats in 36 municipalities on February 8, 2006. The EC declared all candidates in the rest of the 22 municipalities elected unopposed although nominations were filed only for about half of the seats of the total 4,146 seats in 58 municipalities.

Pro-palace politicians and legal experts asserted the international community had no right to question the legitimacy of the municipal polls held under the jurisdiction of a sovereign country. They noted that the Constitution of Nepal did not have any provision for the specific percentage of voters' turnout for the legitimacy of any election; the polls were the internal affair of the country, it was not necessary to get them endorsed by the foreigners and the seven-party alliance; and the EC held the municipal polls pursuant to the Local Election Act of 1991. One of them even went further to say even the UN Charter did not allow the foreigners to make unnecessary comments on the internal affairs of a sovereign country; and they would not dance to the tune of foreigners.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the king's government expressed its serious concern over the comments of some countries on the recently held municipal elections and termed such comments as totally objectionable, unacceptable, and of the double standard of the respective countries. The ministry urged the countries to avoid their double standards of dealing with issues such as democracy and terrorism. The ministry also asked the countries to refrain from making such insolent comments on the matters of the domestic jurisdiction of a sovereign country in future. The ministry said, “His Majesty’s Government of Nepal firmly believes that municipal elections were a clear popular victory in the fight against terror that has derailed democracy for years. The people of Nepal have indomitably thwarted all attempts aimed at constraining the exercise of their fundamental democratic right. His Majesty’s Government of Nepal finds it incomprehensible why some countries have gone to the extent of deploring the municipal elections instead of appreciating the sincere efforts made to put the derailed democracy back on track after a gap of seven years.” The ministry further said that the political parties were not debarred from participating in the municipal polls and were repeatedly asked to participate in the polls to establish them through ballots. “By putting aside their faith in democracy, they themselves decided in advance to actively boycotting the polls and vowed to disrupt the polls at any cost.”

Self-proclaimed president of the splinter Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) and Home Minister Kamal Thapa thanked all the people for the trust and support his party received in the recently concluded municipal elections. Speaking on behalf of the Party, he said, “the RPP pledges to work honestly to realize the people’s aspiration for establishment of sustainable peace, consolidation of multiparty democracy and the overall development of the municipalities.” His party won the seats of Mayor and Deputy Mayors in 34 municipalities including Kathmandu, Biratnagar and Pokhara while five other independents supported by the RPP won the posts of Mayor; and a large number of RPP candidates for the Ward Chairmen and Members won the elections. RPP President and Home Minister Thapa thanked all his party candidates who participated in the elections even risking their lives, and the party workers who worked day and night for election campaign.

An independent candidate for mayor of the Kathmandu Metropolitan City, Krishna Bahadur Shahi, Nepal Samata Party’s candidate for Deputy Mayor of the Kathmandu Metropolitan City, and spokesperson for the Rastrabadi Milan Kendra (RMK) party accused the Election Commission of keeping crucial notifications secret from contesting parties, and some of them even alleged that the polls were rigged. In protest against the irregularities, they walked out of the City Hall, Kathmandu where counting of votes was ongoing. "We have rejected the entire polling process because of the irregularities,” said Radha Budhathoki, Vice-chairperson of the Nepal Samata Party led by current Minister Narayan Singh Pun. "We were kept in dark about the changes made in the Election Directives by the Election Commission," Budhathoki said, referring to the new provisions made in the Election Directives for validity of votes. Displaying the correction made by a pen in the EC directives, Budhathoki said, "None of our candidates and party cadres was informed about it earlier." Minister Pun was present there when his party cadres protested against the EC in the City Hall. Minister Pun admitted that such things were irregularities and said, "The Election Commission should have informed about the changes before the polling date."

An independent candidate for mayor of the Kathmandu Metropolitan City, Krishna Bahadur Shahi also charged the Home Minister with misusing the government machinery saying, "Home Minister Kamal Thapa has massively misused the government mechanism and hired vigilantes to cast proxy votes. It was all done to show high turnout." Royalist Shahi challenged Minister Thapa saying, "If there are more than 3,200 genuine votes cast in any wards except for the ward no 2, 3 and 4, I will commit suicide."

The king's government claiming the municipal election a success while the seven-party alliance calling it a total fiasco, and the Maoists continuing assaults on the district headquarters as a protest against the municipal elections has made the municipal elections mockery of democracy. Is it not a lie when the Home Minister says the municipal election is a success even if only a few people under compulsion came to the polling stations? The government headed none other than the king forced all government employees to participate in the elections. So, most of the government's employees went to vote for keeping their jobs. Others went to vote under pressure and threats of the local pro-palace politicians and relatives of the so-called candidates for the municipal positions.

The state-run media say the municipal election is a success. They attempted to depict a picture of Nepalis taking part in the municipal elections universally although the voters' turnout on February 8, the Election Day was a lowest. Ignoring the media ethics, the state-run media became the tools for the king's government to propagate the municipal elections as a success, and supported the authoritarian rulers to make the mockery of the democratic process.

The Council of Minister ordered the municipal elections saying it was a first step toward the restoration of democracy following the roadmap of the king who killed the democracy on the very inauspicious day of February 1, 2005. Does anybody believe in the person who killed democracy, and later said that he had a roadmap to democracy? Killers can never give life to the dead.

Democracy as everyone understands is the system in which the people rule through their opinions. Public opinions are the main basis for any democratic government to function. None of democratic governments can retain power going against the people's opinions and desires. The current king's government has been staying in power ignoring the majority of the Nepalis' adverse opinions on it. Nobody knows what is the approval rating of the king as nobody holds a Gallop poll in Nepal. If the seven-party alliance's anti-king rallies, the reactions of the civil society and the professional organizations to the media restrictions imposed by the king's government and to the human rights abused by the Royal Nepal Army are any guide to the guesstimate of the approval rating of the king then it must be at the lowest possible.

The king's government imposed the municipal elections going against the people's desire. The seven-party alliance having 90% seats in the dissolved House of Representatives not only opposed but also boycotted them and called on all Nepalis for boycotting them. The government not responsible to the people did not listen to the people's opinion and continued the preparation for the elections even facing the protest rally and the Maoists' attack on the government institutions at the district headquarters, and ultimately held the phony municipal elections.

The Chief Election Commissioner became a campaigner for the government. He called upon all Nepalis to go to polls and exercise voting rights to make the municipal elections a success. Is it not an anecdote that the Chief Election Commissioner acting as a politician and asking the people to go to the election polls and vote? Pursuant to the Constitution of Nepal of 1990, the Chief Election Commissioner's job is to hold fair and free elections not to campaign for the government or any political party. It is natural for the Foreign Minister and the Home Minister to call on the people for going to the polls make the election a success but not for the Chief Election Commissioner.

The Standing Committee of the Privy Council played a part of the king's political organ. It held its regional conferences to make the municipal elections a success. Abusing the authority provided by the Constitution, one member of the Standing Committee of the Privy Council after another blasted the leaders of the seven-party alliance for their stand on the municipal elections.

Taking the king to the district headquarters of the Eastern districts and some other places in the Eastern Nepal before the municipal elections, the flatterers abused the state-treasury and the state-run media for their benefits. They made the king think that he has the people's support but he did not know that most of the people came to see him were either paid by the taxpayers' money or came under compulsion to cheer him. With the heavy turnout of the people to cheer the king as shown on the state-run Nepal TV and as reported by the state-run press, the king was emboldened to insist on holding the municipal elections despite the adverse opinions of the international community and the boycott of the elections by the seven-party alliance and the threats of the Maoists. Is it not really a joke played by the flatterers on the king?

The Home Minister had not only bullied the government employees into going to polls but also into voting for the candidates of his party causing the municipal elections unacceptable even to the pro-palace political parties participating in the municipal elections. Putting all civil society leaders and human rights activists behind bars for holding municipal elections, the Home Minister made the municipal elections a success, and the mockery of democracy.

Despite all sorts of attempts made by the pro-palace people and the king's government, the municipal elections could not be successful and could not convince the Nepalis and the international community of that the king's government was sincere in restoring democracy through the electoral process. The election results have been an embarrassment to the government and the Election Commission as well. Thus, the king's claim to restoring democracy to Nepalis through holding fair and free elections had been a hollow claim only.

*************

Siddhi B. Ranjitkar is a political analyst in Kathmandu.

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