Today’s news is dominated by the death of seven Maoists from police fire in Lamahi in Dang, western Nepal. It’s difficult to discern what actually happened through the predominantly anti-Maoist media, but what is certain is that there were no casualties for the police — the result that speaks for itself. The killings came just two days before the historic elections of a Constitutional Assembly, the first democratically elected Constitutional Assembly in Nepal’s history. The Maoist leadership have responded to the deaths by urging their members to show restraint and go ahead with the elections. The pre-election death toll has been by far the highest among Maoists. Meanwhile in another place a UML candidate was killed in a confrontation between UML and Nepali Congress cadres.
In the Terai plains, various groups who are boycotting the elections have declared a bandh (stoppage). How this will affect the vote tomorrow is hard to predict, but according to UN officials these groups have some sway. The bandh is directed at pedestrians.
The widely despised feudal king Gyanendra sent out a press release today urging people to vote. The king’s move, a desperate attempt to stay in the game, shows that he is still working to find a way for the monarchy to survive after the elections. The interim parliament, however, has already declared Nepal a republic, stripping the king of all positions in the state, and decided that the first act of the Constitutional Assembly will be to ratify this declaration, irrespective of the electoral results.
Roughly speaking, the Nepali Congress represents the rich, the UML represents the middle class, and the Maoists represent the working classes. Not surprisingly, there have been many complaints from the Maoists that the richer parties are buying votes. The NC and the UML, in turn, have constantly accused the Maoists of intimidating their candidates and voters. The elections tomorrow will be flawed but the extent of the problem will be difficult to judge.
As there are no reliable opinion polls, all three major parties have claimed that they will get a majority. The question is what will happen if the results displease the powers that be. What if the Maoists actually win a big majority? That would certainly upset the elite circles in Kathmandu and the international media. Voting will be finished on the tenth of April, but, according to the latest news, the counting might take up to a month. With such a long delay, the losers could take action to change the results in many ways.
History has shown that the world outside has generally underestimated the Maoists. It’s the Maoists who have been the driving force behind the quick political developments since the December 2006 truce. And the Maoists have put forward the most comprehensive plan for the structure of a new federal republic of Nepal. Will tomorrow’s poll be the first step toward a peaceful restructuring of Nepali society in that direction? Or will we see new hindrances in the struggle for people’s power in Nepal?
Biratnagar, 9th of April
Johan Petter Andresen is a Norwegian friend of MRZine now in Nepal.