In Nepal: Campaign Concludes and Challenges Mount
April 9, 2008
In the last several days here in Kathmandu, despite real and threatened violence, a flurry of campaign activity has taken place in advance of Nepal’s critical Constituent Assembly election. Parties from across the political spectrum engage in planned and spontaneous rallies that snake through Kathmandu’s narrow lanes in a seemingly endless procession of colorful flags, banners, and percussive chants. Motorcycle caravans numbering in the hundreds, often with two or more riders astride each bike, chaotically rumble up and down the city’s wider thoroughfares, waving party flags and calling out to passersby for their support. In Kirtipur on Sunday, Prachanda, the leader of the decade-long Maoist insurgency and himself now a candidate, laid out his agenda for change: a passionate desire to bring education, fresh water, and new roads to Nepal’s most remote regions. Prachanda (a nom de guerre meaning “the fierce one”) appeared to have settled comfortably into his new role as “the candidate.” Speaking before a crowd of several thousand of his fellow countrymen, he respectfully requested their support.
Clearly, the parties have engaged in a robust campaign, and by Nepali standards, they have employed new methods to reach citizens, such as radio spots, newspaper ads, and even party web sites – all of which one can observe here in Kathmandu and wherever such media is accessible. Even posters and party billboards, banned in an effort to accommodate financially strapped parties, appear occasionally in rural and urban areas. Most critically, all parties, including the Maoists, have pledged to abide by the results of the election as long as it is undertaken in a fashion deemed “free and fair”.
Nepali parties and citizens have brought significant enthusiasm to the process during the final days of the campaign, and their embrace of common electoral standards is certainly a welcome sign, but troubling contradictions remain. Ongoing violence and intimidation of candidates, party workers, and the population at large is ever present. In the last several days, hundreds have been injured in small-scale acts of campaign-related violence occurring both in and out of the capital city, and several bombs have disrupted public rallies, killing dozens of innocent Nepalis, and terrorizing an already skittish electorate. In addition, eight more here were reportedly shot dead on Wednesday. It is this continued threat of violence that could undermine the positive steps that have been taken to bring Nepal closer to a more inclusive constitutional framework.
It is just hours before the election, and a nationwide “cooling period” is now in effect. After two prior attempts to hold this election, both of which were derailed, we are on the threshold of an historic vote. The parties, the government, and the international community must redouble their effort to ensure a truly “free and fair” election to honor those who have made an investment in the process, and who have brought new enthusiasm to the country’s political reconstruction. Having come so far, and professed such strong support for the mutually agreed-upon electoral framework, the parties must also find a way to live with the results. Today and in the coming weeks, the challenge to political parties in Nepal will be to maintain their commitment to the political process beyond the election and final tabulation of results. All parties must prepare themselves for the possibility that they may not emerge from this election process with the results they had hoped for, or that their enthusiastic campaigns had promised.
John Karr is The Asia Foundation’s Director for Digital Media. He is currently in Kathmandu filming the events unfolding around the April 10 elections, as well as acting as an elections observer. To contact him, please send an email to email@example.com.
Along with this dispatch, John Karr sent in pictures he’s taken of events in Kathmandu over the past two days. Please click to see a Maoist campaign rally, election observers from ANFREL, and a Maoist supporter. To see four short films on Nepal produced by John and his team, visit The Asia Foundation’s website.
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