Historic Elections in Nepal

Surprising even the Nepalis themselves, the Constituent Assembly elections went quite smoothly, considering the great tension in the country.  According to The Himalayan, only 33 of the total of 20,889 polling stations had to postpone polling to a later date, due to various forms of irregularities.

The turnout was much higher than expected, more than 60%.  In other words, 10.5 million out of 17.6 million eligible voters cast their votes.  That doesn’t mean that there wasn’t any violence even yesterday.  There were bomb blasts in a city in the Terai; two people, one of whom was a candidate, were killed in another area of the Terai; and accusations of “booth looting” have been leveled against the Maoists by a contesting party in one polling station.  But all in all the elections were a success.

I drove to 16 polling stations in the Southeast — more specifically, in Morang, Jhapa, and Sunsari districts — and found more or less the same picture.

Most voters got up early to avoid the scorching daytime heat.  Women dressed themselves up in saris, and men had clean t-shirts, for this important occasion.  There was even a kind of festive atmosphere.  At the polling stations, the competing political parties were represented among the electoral officials in charge of them.  It was evident that many voters weren’t used to voting — they had to have how to vote explained to them quite practically then and there.

Even though I visited many polling stations I couldn’t find any sign or allegation of rigging or coercion.  I was just as surprised as the Nepali media.  There doesn’t seem to be, so far, any doubt in any camp that the elections were generally free and fair.

And now to Act Two.  Vote counting has been assigned to the district level, to reassure voters that voting will be secret in their own respective villages.  The election commission expects that counting will take three weeks for the definitive final results.  During that period, the counting stations will continually broadcast the results of the votes tallied.  For example, in Biratnagar in Morang, they have set up a loudspeaker to announce the counting results every hour!  They will tally votes twenty-four hours non-stop in six shifts per day, and all the major parties will be represented among those counting.

As of 10:47 PM Nepal time on Friday April 11th, partial results have been posted in 75 of the 240 “First Past The Post” constituencies, and the CPN(Maoist) is ahead in 41, and the Nepal Congress in second place with 12.  Though these results are fairly complete only for the central valley of Nepal with the three adjoining cities of Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur, the CPN(Maoist) is running ahead in all parts of the country that have reported so far.  These constituency results as they come in are being officially reported at <http://www.election.gov.np/>   The proportional representation results will take longer to see, perhaps much longer.  But there is no reason to expect a different pattern from that emerging in the FPTP results. — Ed.

The general trend should become clear fairly quickly.  That’s when the fun begins.  Other countries’ experiences can tell us that electoral rigging is most common during the vote count.  And of course the losing parties will have ample opportunities to start complaining about this or that aspect of the elections.  But it won’t be easy for them to disrupt the process as the unanimous attitude of observers is that the elections were orderly.

Act Three will begin if and when the Constituent Assembly meets in about four to five weeks, charged with serious work of establishing a functioning government and framing the constitution for the newly founded federal republic.  Act One in the drama of the historic elections was a triumph for the people of Nepal.  But in Act Three, if the revolutionary CPN(Maoist) were to come in first [as now appears very likely — ed.], the professed allegiance of the local elites and their friends in the United States to “democracy” is going to be put to a test.  One absurdity in the international situation is that the United States continues officially to regard the CPN(Maoist) as “terrorists”!

Biratnagar, 11th of April

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

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