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Protecting the poll

That the media and the international community have declared the November 19 election ‘non-negotiable’ is a reason for cheer

Written by Yubaraj Ghimire | Published: November 13, 2013 3:26:47 am

That the media and the international community have declared the November 19 election ‘non-negotiable’ is a reason for cheer

Not just the police and paramilitary forces,but the Nepal army too has descended on the streets,mostly in Kathmandu and other urban areas,to convey the message that the government is concerned about security for the November 19 election. The polls are being boycotted by a 33-party alliance led by the breakaway Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M). Patrolling on such a scale,unprecedented in the last three decades,began on Monday and coincided with a day-long bandh called by the poll-boycott alliance.

The showdown between the boycott alliance — which refused to enter the arena if Chief Justice Khil Raj Regmi didn’t resign from the head of the electoral government — and the government has reached a point of no return. The international community — mainly,the UN,US and India — has taken a collective stance of favouring polls at any cost. Thwarting any effective resistance thus becomes absolutely necessary for the government. The security deployment points to that,although fears about the polls not taking place have not yet died down.

On Saturday,the high-level political committee consisting of the six pro-poll parties,which guide and advise the electoral government,issued a statement expressing a “full commitment” to holding polls on the scheduled date. Earlier,the international community had warned the anti-election groups against any move to use violence,since it was illegal under the law of the land. “This only confirms our fear that this election is being imposed on us at the behest of external forces,without preparing the real ground for constitution-making at home,” asserts C.P. Gajurel,vice chairman of the CPN-M. The anti-poll alliance may be an irritant,but there is more visible distrust among the pro-poll forces. “The Nepali Congress,Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist and the Madhesi groups are conspiring against me and my party,” United Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M) chairman Prachanda said on Monday. The message is that “government agencies” may be used against him and the UCPN-M. His anger is understandable. The parties he blames have publicly declared that the “constitution cannot be delivered by the Constituent Assembly without the participation of the CPN-M”.

In this confusion,the US and EU have issued travel advisories that will discourage tourists from visiting Nepal in the peak season. Despite the UN and the international community encouraging the government to hold polls on schedule,they are clearly not undermining the strength of the boycotting groups,which may also cash in on the general sense of public frustration and anger about the failure of these actors to deliver the constitution.

The electoral government,headed by the chief justice and packed with retired bureaucrats,doesn’t have to defend the failed actors. It will definitely be held accountable for the reported lack of preparation by the election commission,for any deterioration in law and order as well as violence by the state,especially given the army deployment. The former king,Gyanendra,who recently said that the “people should participate in the democratic election”,is believed to have asked a pointed question of the army chief: Will the Nepal army kill Nepalese people? Even during the 19-day movement against the king’s direct rule in April 2006,the army was responsible for only one of the 21 deaths,when the mob was marching towards the telecom office protected by the army. The remaining deaths were attributed to the police

and paramilitary.

Amidst such fear and confusion,the election commission appears lacking in preparedness. It failed to print the permanent identity cards it promised. It’s struggling now to distribute temporary ones. Yet,for the government and the election commission,the happiest news is that most major media houses and the international community are backing them. Their common defence is that the election is “non-negotiable” in taking democracy forward. But the challenges are not over. The increasing poll-related violence has been quite discouraging.

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