Letter from Nepal, Saturday, April 5th

After ten years of civil war and one and a half years of jittery peace, the Nepali people will be electing a constituent assembly for the first time in their history.  The motive force behind the people’s war, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) reached a deal with the main parliamentary parties on a nationwide uprising after the despotic king Gyanendra had assumed all powers of the state in 2005.  The nationwide revolt in April 2006 forced the king to retreat and the peace process, with the aim of electing a constituent assembly, commenced.  With the comprehensive agreement of the fall of 2006 the king was firmly sidelined, if not formally deposed, and the run-up to the elections began.

The elections have been postponed twice, first from June 2007 and then from November the same year.  But they’ll now be held on the 10th of April.

The three main contesting parties (of over seventy) are the Nepali Congress, the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist Leninist), usually termed UML, and the CPN (Maoist).  Both the Nepali Congress and UML have been in government during the ten-year civil war, in alliance with the feudal royalty against the Maoists.  There is of course mutual mistrust all over the board.

I asked a knowledgeable source if he reckoned that there would be a lot of cheating.  He said that I, as a European, couldn’t even imagine how much cheating is normal in elections here.  Might election observers help?

Well, this election will have more observers than ever before in Nepali history.  There will be 64,000 national election observers.  The Carter Center is represented by 60 international observers, and the EU has mustered the largest delegation with 125.  All in all there are probably almost one thousand international observers.

The cynic will ask: Which side are the individual observers and the different observer organizations on?  The election commission has said that the final result of the election will probably not be announced until three weeks after the election.  As we know from the criticism of the elections in Zimbabwe where over a week was considered suspicious, what are we to think about three weeks?  We can only hope that there will be enough civil vigilance to hinder too much monkey business.

The Maoists believe that they will get a majority vote during the elections, but they are afraid that the elections won’t be free and fair. The other parties, of course, claim that the Maoists are not to be trusted.

For a naive European, the situation in Nepal is very demanding.  One thing is sure: Don’t trust anything you read in the media.

Yesterday evening four small bombs went off in Kathmandu valley.  Two of them explicitly targeted Maoist quarters.  Nobody has taken responsibility.  Outside the Kathmandu valley, things are rougher.  People have been shot dead and meetings have been physically broken up.  The police have intervened and shot people.  And there have been assassinations of candidates.  Since peace was brokered, over 60 Maoists have been murdered, and 7 in the last few weeks.

In this atmosphere an historic election will be held. For the first time in Nepali history common people will have a chance to elect those that will, with a two thirds majority, create the constitution of a federal democratic republic of Nepal.  No one doubts that the election will spell the end of the king and the royal feudal system.  The Nepal Army, confined by agreement to its barracks, is still under the command of the king’s friends and officers trained in the United States.  Will they and foreign intelligence agencies accept a popular verdict not to their liking?  But their calculations will have to take into account the Peoples Liberation Army, also confined to its cantonments by agreement.

Kathmandu, 5th of April.

Johan Petter Andresen is a Norwegian friend of MRZine now in Nepal.

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