Toward CA Election in Nepal
Toward CA Election in Nepal
By Siddhi B. Ranjitkar
The election scheduled for April 10 will create a special assembly called a Constituent Assembly (CA) that will craft a new constitution of Nepal and shall end the 240-year-old exclusive monarchical rule. The CA election is one of the main components of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed between the Government of Nepal and the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-Maoist) on November 08, 2006.
All Nepalis have been hoping that the thrice-postponed CA election would be held peacefully on schedule this time and their elected representatives in the CA would craft a new constitution for making Nepal a common land of opportunity for self-development and prosperity.
However, a group of people that have enjoyed exclusive power for 240 years has been nervous of losing its exclusive power and has been attempting to foil the election acting on various pretexts. So, the force of this group as well as the fighting among the cadres of the three major political parties such as Nepali Congress (NC), Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-Maoist), and Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist and Leninist (CPN-UML) have posed a serious threat to the election for a CA.
As the election day is approaching every day, the cadres of three major political parties such as NC, CPN-Maoist, and CPN-UML have been fighting against each other to prevent each others’ election rallies and so on. Recently, their fighting has been intensified; some cadres have lost their lives making Nepalis to question whether these cadres of three major political parties are going to ruin the election for a CA.
Probably, some groups in the NC and the CPN-UML having sympathy for the monarchy or for fear of the Maoists coming to power or for giving words to the monarch for supporting him have been working for foiling the election for a CA. Similarly, a group of Maoists believing in capturing the state power by force must have been working for spoiling the election for a CA hoping to going back to take up arms for gaining the state power. So, there are quite a few groups that have been working against the election for a CA. However, the strength of these groups is negligible in comparison to the strength of the people that want to make the election for a CA a success.
On March 29, 2008, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala said that the ongoing confrontation and antagonism among the political parties could lead to another tragedy in the country. “If such a tragedy takes place, it will benefit the royalists and those who don’t want Constituent Assembly polls to happen,” said Prime Minister Koirala, talking to the reporters at his home in Biratnagar. “The seven parties sign a pact not to clash during the election campaigns but they start attacks on each other before the ink of their signature is dry,” said the octogenarian Prime Minister, referring to a four-point agreement signed by five major parties in the ruling Seven-Party Alliance early this week. “It is not a good sign.” Prime Minister Koirala urged the ruling parties on abiding by their commitment to peace and stability and stopping the hostile activities against each other. “This election is a battle between those who want stability in the country and those who want instability,” said Prime Minister Koirala, adding, “If we fail to hold the election, regressive and anti-people forces will benefit the most.” He warned of arising a different and difficult situation in case of such a failure. The Prime Minister said the CA election was an epoch-making event and was directly connected with the desires of the people. “That’s why the entire international community has supported it,” he added. Prime Minister Koirala said overwhelming support from the international community was not for the Seven-Party Alliance but for the aspirations of the people. “So it is the people’s property and no one has a right to disrupt it through their wrangling.” 
The NC has announced an indefinite shutdown in Rasuwa district protesting the Maoists' attack on NC candidate Bal Chandra Poudel and its cadres on Tuesday, April 01, 2008. About 25 NC cadres have been injured in the attack. The Maoists-affiliated Young Communist League (YCL) members have attacked the NC team that was heading to Yarsa from Bhorle of the district. NC candidate Poudel is undergoing treatment at Teaching Hospital, Kathmandu. Home Minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula has directed high-level police officers to investigate the case and bring the culprits to book. He directed Deputy Inspector General Kiran Gautam to submit a preliminary report on the incident by Wednesday evening on the incident. 
On March 31, 2008, the local administration clamped a curfew from 2:00 P.M. to 10:00 P.M. in Dadeldhura following the clashes among the workers of the three major political parties such as CPN-UML, CPN-Maoist and the NC that injured 25 people. The CPN-UML and CPN-Maoist poll campaigners came to blows with the NC cadres over the shutdown of the Dadeldhura district headquarters. After charging the NC cadres of collecting about 500 flags of the CPN-UML and the CPN-Maoist planted on the houses and then burning them down, they declared a shutdown of the district headquarters as the show of a protest against the burning of their parties’ flags by the NC cadres. CPN-UML and CPN-Maoist cadres demanded an apology from NC leader and poll candidate Sher Bahadur Deuba for what has happened there. Chief District Officer Dil Bahadur Ghimire said, "Though we are trying to restore harmony in the area by holding consultations with the leaders of the three parties, we have not been able to get a warm response.” The CPN-Maoist has claimed that NC workers vandalized its party office with the support of the police administration following the clamping of a curfew. 
On April 01, 2008, addressing a joint-press conference held in Dadeldhura, CPN-UML District Committee Member Nara Bahadur Bista, District Secretary of CPN-Maoist 'Biplav', and Chairman of People's Front Nepal Janak Kalauni doubted whether the elections in Dadeldhura would be held impartially if the top government district officials were not suspended. They have demanded that the Chief District Officer (CDO), Deputy Superintendent of Police and one police sub-inspector are suspended. The three left parties condemned CDO Dil Bahadur Ghimire, deputy superintendent Lokendra Malla and police sub inspector Bir Bahadur Ayir for backing the NC workers to ransack the CPN-Maoist party office in the district and supporting the NC workers in manhandling Maoist cadres on an election rally. The left parties have vented their ire against former Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba of turning a deaf ear to the deteriorating situation even though he was in the district at the time of the clashes. 
Talking to the reporters after paying respect to the Maoists’ cadre Ganga Bahadur Bhujel killed in the clashes between the Maoists’ cadres and the NC workers in Solukhumbu on Wednesday, March 26, 2008, Senior Maoist Leader and Minister for Information and Communication Krishna Bahadur Mahara has said that his party will politically retaliate the killings of Maoist cadres. Minister Mahara said, "We don't only condemn this killing but vow to politically retaliate." He also accused the royalist group in the NC of working to foil the election for a CA. 
On Thursday, March 27, 2008, Minister for Information and Communications and senior leader of CPN-Maoist Krishna Bahadur Mahara directed his party cadres for a peaceful and thought-based protest against the killings of Maoist cadres and not to retaliate violently which could spoil the election environment. Paying tribute to Ganga Bahadur Bhujel shot dead during the clashes between the NC cadres and the Maoists’ cadres in the course of electioneering at Sishakhola of Solukhumbu district, he accused the NC of being frightened of defeat in the election and resorting to killings. “It is clear that NC leader Bal Bahadur KC was involved in the killing of Bhujel, so the government should immediately take actions against the culprit," he said. Referring to the killings of his party cadres in Rolpa, Kapilvastu and Solukhumbu, Minister Mahara said that the incidents were a part of the plot to disrupt the CA election by provoking his party. He stressed on a free, fair and impartial election and claimed that his party was already politically victorious and the election would open the way to institutionalize the achievements for a new Nepal. 
On March 28, 2008, talking to the reporters at Narayanghat before returning to Kathmandu after completing his visit to the eastern Terai, Maoists’ Chairman Prachanda said that the conspiracy was being hatched to foil the election for a CA after seeing the massive support for the Maoists; however, the CA elections should not be aborted on any pretext; if the election were terminated, there would be the people's revolt. 
On Wednesday, April 02, 2008, addressing an election rally at Sahid Manch in Kathmandu, Maoists, Chairman Prachanda said that his party would accept whatever verdict the people may give to his party through the election for a CA scheduled for April 10. "We are still suspected that we will not accept the election results. But we have been saying that we will accept the people's verdict," Prachanda said. "But it does not mean that all kinds of rigging in the polls and conspiracies against the polls are acceptable to us," he said, warning of capturing the Narayanhiti Palace if the people's desire for a forward-looking change is betrayed. Refuting allegations that the YCL has indulged in beating, threatening and intimidating and preventing other parties from accessing to election rallies, Prachanda said, "Had there not been the YCL, reactionary forces would have killed me in a rally in Siraha and the entire peace process and election would have collapsed. But the media, parties and international community did not take this incident seriously," he said, "But we have instructed YCL to have patience and act like Gandhi until the election." He also accused the foreign forces of conspiring to prevent the Maoists from winning the election. "I have received credible information that the superpower would take it as its own defeat if the NC and CPN-UML lost to us," he said. Chairman Prachanda also doubts over the neutrality of international election observers. "They are here to prevent the Maoists from getting elected," he said. "I have heard they would give their thumps up if the Maoists are defeated, otherwise they would say the election was not fair," he said, "We do not need such thug observers who are biased against us." 
On Friday, March 28, 2008, speaking at an interaction program in Kathmandu, Election Commissioner Dolakh Bahadur Gurung said that the atmosphere of the election was worsening compared to some weeks ago, as the major political parties failed to implement their earlier commitment to holding the election in a free, fair and fearless manner. Major political parties have been competing for violating the election code of conduct rather than implementing it properly. Commissioner Gurung urged the parties on testing their popularity following the democratic values and election code of conduct. He also urged the political parties on being active in the election campaign in a free and fair manner." 
Speaking to the reporters in Dhangadi on Wednesday, April 02, 2008, Chief of the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) Ian Martin has said the larger parties have engaged in disrupting each other’s election rallies resulting in violence; the Maoists, CPN-UML and NC are the major parties violating code of conduct in the far western region. "This does not augur well for the constituent assembly election. There is a need for an all-party control committee to ensure that the parties run their respective campaigns peacefully," he said. Martin has said that the Maoists have been barring other parties from campaigning by deploying cadres of the Young Communist League (YCL) claiming the region is their base area. He also expressed concern over the People's Liberation Army members leaving their cantonments and involving in the election campaign, but he has received assurance from the Maoist leaders and commanders that it would not happen in the future. 
The Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) invited the top leaders such as Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala of NC, Chairman Prachanda of the CPN-Maoist, and the General Secretary Madhav Kumar Nepal of the CPN-UML on Monday, March 31, 2008 and urge them on disciplining their cadres to abide by the election code of conduct. The three top leaders in turn assured the CEC of ensuring the smooth holding of the election for a CA.
Top leaders of the three major political parties of the ruling seven-party alliance have signed on a fresh 10-point agreement in which they say that they will direct their party cadres not to engage in activities that will disrupt the election campaign of other political parties. Prime Minister and President of NC Girija Prasad Koirala, CPN-UML General Secretary Madhav Kumar Nepal and Maoists’ Chairman Prachanda signed on the agreement after meeting at the Prime Minister’s official residence in Baluwatar on Tuesday morning, April 01, 2008. They have said that they will take strong actions against those involved in the disruptive activities in the run-up to the election, as a measure to hold it in a free and fair manner. The three leaders have also agreed on to set up a hotline at each District Administration Office to report on the violation of the election code of conduct, and a monitoring committee comprising of civil society members for monitoring the violation of the election code of conduct. They also set up a three-member committee comprising Amrit Kumar Bohora of CPN-UML, Prakash Sharan Mahat of NC and Mohan Vaidya of the CPN-Maoist to see the implementation of this agreement and to create an environment conducive to talk among the three parties. 
Minister for Peace and Reconstruction Ram Chandra Poudel was supposed to talk with the representatives of the four groups such as United Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha, Terai Cobra, Madhesh Mukti Tigers and Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha for a peace deal on Friday, March 28, 2008. They have been indulging in the armed fighting against the state. However, they did not turn up for the talk rather called off the meeting stating that they would talk with the government only after the government released all their cadres taken under the custody. In addition to these four groups, the government needs to talk to two other groups such as Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha-Jwala Singh and Akhil Terai Mukti Morcha- Jai Krishna Goit for a peace deal.
On March 30, 2008, Minister for Peace and Reconstruction Ram Chandra Poudel said in Biratnagar that the government-talks team could not hold a peace dialogue with the minor armed Madheshi groups on Saturday, March 29 because of the failure of the latter to provide a list of their cadres in the police custody and the lack of clarity in their demands and preconditions for talks. “The talks could not take place because of them,” said Minister Poudel, while talking to reporters at Biratnagar airport. Minister Poudel said the government showed its readiness for talks as the groups proposed peace talks through mediators. “After that we had talks on the phone, correspondence and even direct talks with them,” said Minister Poudel. “But they did not seem sincere about the talks.” Minister Poudel said the groups still have conflicting opinions amongst themselves on whether to hold talks or not. “But the government is ready for talks any time,” he said. “We will maintain law and order, keep up the dialogue and continue poll campaigning simultaneously,” Minister Poudel said. 
On March 31, 2008, speaking at the election rally held by the NC District Working Committee in Siraha, Minister for Peace and Reconstruction and Convener of the Government-talks team, Ram Chandra Poudel accused the armed agitating groups in Terai of attempting to foil the election for a CA. Minister Poudel said that the agitating groups did not sit for a peace deal on the pretext of not releasing their cadres from custody even though they could not provide the names of their imprisoned cadres. 
The armed-Madheshi groups have announced that recently formed their joint-talks team has been dissolved with the expiry of the deadline set for Saturday 3:00 PM to meet their demands. In a joint statement, Rajan of the Madhesh Mukti Tigers, Nagraj of Terai Cobra, Rajan Mukti of Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha and Pawan of United Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha said that they dissolved the team formed four days ago to talk with the government, as the government failed to meet their demands by Saturday. They had demanded that the government should release all cadres detained by the police and created an atmosphere conducive to talks. They warned of taking violent actions against the candidates for the CA election, the poll campaigners and the poll officials. 
On March 31, 2008, CPN-Maoist leader Hitman Shakya 'Suman' has said that his party has the information about the assassination plot hatched by the reactionary forces to kill its leaders and foil the elections for a CA and derail the peace process. He predicted that the country would get entangled in the vicious cycle of political struggles in case the CA failed to give an appropriate solution to the age-old political problems. He blamed other political parties for not focusing their attention on how to shape the fate of the country in political, economic and social terms and for taking the election for a CA but fighting the election as if it was for forming a government. 
On March 30, 2008, Minister without Portfolio Sujata Koirala has said that she has received the information about the Indian criminal gangs actively engaged in the border areas for disrupting the election for a CA. The recent bomb attack on the mosque in Biratnagar is an example of such involvement, she claims. In addition, she said that she had been receiving the threats to her life from the Madheshi People’s Rights Forum (MPRF). She questioned how the voters would use their franchise in such a frightening atmosphere. She has added that the attempt to kill NC candidate Abdullah Mansuri clearly proves the activities of criminal gangs on the border sides. 
On Monday, March 31, 2008, in its report on the study conducted in some 20 municipalities and 700 Village Development Committees (VDCs) of 35 districts by the General Election Observation Committee (GEOC) has revealed that some of the members of civil society and election observers are not neutral and the continued death threats to the lives of candidates, abduction and physical assaults on the candidates have adversely affected the election campaigning in the run-up to the CA election. In addition, the government media and some of the ministers and officials have been breaching the election code of conduct. However, GEOC President has said that though some people are skeptical about the election for a CA, it will inevitably take place, as the national and international community including India and the US are very much in favor of it. 
On Friday, March 28, 2008, interacting with media persons after meeting with the district administration, security election officials and some political leaders in Janakpurdham, the British Ambassador to Nepal Dr Andrew Hall said, "No group should take up arms against the state and there is no room for the armed groups in the election process." The British ambassador was there to look into the preparations for the election. He said that the security and other practical arrangements for the April-10 election were going on very well. Reiterating an all-out support for the election process, Dr Hall has said that the UK is the largest donor to the Nepal's development; so, it takes the election as a critical part of the peace process to consolidate peace in the country, as development cannot take place without peace. "Of course, the election would happen. What is the alternative," he said replying to a query by reporters. 
On Thursday March 27, speaking at a program held in Kathmandu by the Reporters Club Nepal, Human Rights activists requested political parties to forge consensus on making the election for a CA a success rather than engage in the blame game. Human Rights Activist Krishna Pahadi has said that different political parties have violated the election code of conduct in course of their campaigns. He further has said that armed groups have been involved in attempting to disrupt the CA election; however, they would not be successful; the CA elections would not be derailed with such small incidents. He has also claimed that the royalists, extremists and status quoits have been actively involved in obstructing the CA polls. Another Human Rights Activist Kapil Shrestha has said that the political parties need to play a crucial role in making the election for a CA a success, as it is the main component of the peace process. He also has informed that that human rights activists and the civil society have been involved in holding the CA election in a free and fair manner. Human rights activists have visited Kapilvastu, Rolpa, and Banke and different other districts recently and have gathered and disseminated information about the election environment in those districts. 
Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Bhojraj Pokharel has said that the few violent clashes during the election rallies of political parties in some places should not deter the election for a CA slated for April 10. The CEC's remark came during his interaction with the political representatives, election observers and media persons in the western district called Myagdi on Saturday, March 29, 2008. Despite isolated incidents of violence there is nothing to be worried about the election process as it stands presently, but the political parties need to abide by the election code of conduct, he added. Deriving satisfaction from the huge momentum the CA election has gained, Pokharel also urged the political parties and all other concerned parties on acting responsibly in order to make the historic election a success. The CEC was currently on a tour to western districts to take stock of the preparations for the polls. 
On March 30, 2008, the Election Commission (EC) has said that the printing of ballot papers for the elections to the Constituent Assembly (CA) slated for April 10 has completed. The EC has printed 241 different kinds of ballot papers: 240 kinds for the direct election of candidates and one for the proportional representation (PR) votes. The Commission has printed 20.04 million ballot papers for direct votes and they are in 240 types for 240 constituencies according to EC Spokesperson Laxman Bhattarai. Similarly, the EC has printed 20.08 million ballot papers for the PR system and they are of the same kind, Spokesperson Bhattarai said. The EC has already transported the ballot papers to 178 constituencies. "We will complete transporting the ballot papers to all constituencies by Wednesday, (April 02)” Spokesperson Bhattarai said. According to the EC, 17.6 million voters are expected to vote in the upcoming CA polls across the nation. Of them, 8.88 million are male and 8.73 million female. 
There are 20,888 polling booths in 9,821 places across the nation. Syanja-1 has the maximum 131 polling booths while Manag district has the minimum 20 polling booths. Gulmi-2 has maximum number of voters - 104,888 - while a polling booth situated at Laligurans Primary School at Chame VDC in Manag district has only 23 voters. EC Spokesperson Laxman Bhattarai has said that a total of 148 national election observation organizations have taken permission to monitor the poll process while 28 international poll-observation organizations are involved in the election process. 
Nepal-India border in the Ilam district has been sealed from Sunday, March 30 to prevent possible criminal activities in the run-up to the April-10 Constituent Assembly (CA) elections. Chief District Officer (CDO) Ram Prasad Ghimire has said that the border has been sealed as per the agreement between the district administration of Ilam, Nepal and the security officers of Darjeeling, India. Security will be beefed up in the border areas including Pashupatinagar, Gorkhe, Jaubari, Kalapokhari, Samalbung and Shriantu. 
On Sunday, March 30, 2008, Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Bhoj Raj Pokhrel in Pokhara said that the Commission would take actions against those election observers involved in the election campaign of any political parties and candidates, going against the election code of conduct. "Those involved in the activities against law will be punished as per the law,” Pokhrel said speaking to the journalists in Pokhara after acquiring information about the poll preparation in Tanahun, Parbat, Baglung and Myagdi districts. Pokhrel urged all not to harbor any doubt about the possibility of elections to the Constituent Assembly (CA) on April 10. "We should not evaluate the entire situation by picking up some minor incidents. The situation is not out of control although some complexities have surfaced during the conflict transformation process. The elections will be held successfully.” He also urged the voters to participate in the voting in a fearless manner, as the Commission was committed to hold the elections in a free and fair manner. 
The government has announced two-week-long poll vacation for schools across the country starting on Wednesday, April 02 and ending on April 15. "We have to close schools for two weeks because many teachers will be assigned as polling staffs for the election. In addition, many schools will function as polling centers for the election on April 10," said Rajan Khanal, Joint Secretary at the Ministry of Education and Sports. According to Joint Secretary Khanal, there are over 100,000 teachers in the country. Over a half of them would be deployed as polling staffs. "In total, 234,000 personnel will be deployed as polling staffs. They include civil servants and teachers. We have requested concerned authorities to provide the list of teachers," said Laxman Bhattarai, spokesperson for the Election Commission (EC). 
On Wednesday, April 02, 2008, the Election Commission (EC) said around 64,000 individuals would be mobilized to observe the CA elections slated for April 10. The initially estimated number of observers was 93,000. The EC has already issued identity cards to 59,731 individuals granting them permission to monitor the polls, according to EC spokesperson Laxman Prasad Bhattarai. The EC has given permission to different 148 domestic and 30 international election-observing organizations to monitor the poll process. The EC has asked the poll observers to strictly abide by the poll-observation code of conduct and not to misuse their resources, and warned them of revoking the identity cards in case of they violating the election code. As per the observation directives, the observers should submit their preliminary report within 15 days of the completion of the election and final report within three months. 
On Wednesday, April 02, 2008, the Government of Nepal announced public holiday starting on April 07 and ending on April 11 in view of the CA elections scheduled for April 10. . Most of the State employees would have missed voting if the Government of Nepal has not declared shutting down the offices for five days, as they need to travel quite a few days to reach their homes in the mostly remote areas and then the polling-booths for voting. So, the government’s announcement of giving a number of holidays to the state employees is really justifiable.
This time, Nepalis will certainly exercise their franchise to elect their representatives to a CA that will craft a new constitution of Nepal. The sporadic events of violence during the election campaign are absolutely normal in view of such events taking place elsewhere in the south Asian countries during a regular parliamentary or presidential election. Of course, the exceptional case of the non-violent election was the election recently held in Bhutan where election-rally violence was unknown or not reported at all.
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 The Rising Nepal, March 31, 2008, “EC completes printing of ballot papers”
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 The Rising Nepal, April 03, 2008, “Govt announces public holidays for election”