A blast near the venue of a public meeting being addressed by Maoist chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ Saturday became the latest terrorist incident in Nepal’s ongoing election campaign that has been rocked by over a hundred small and large explosions countrywide.
Bombs have earlier gone off close to campaign meetings of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba in Dang district of western Nepal, and that of K P Oli, the prime ministerial candidate of the Left Alliance, in the capital Kathmandu, sending waves of fear and panic sweeping across the country.
The first phase of polling to elect a federal and seven provincial assemblies under the two year old constitution took place on November 26. A turnout of 65% was recorded as votes were cast for 37 parliamentary and 74 provincial legislature seats. The second, and final, round of voting is scheduled for December 7.
Nepal’s parliament will have 275 seats, 165 of which will be decided by direct voting in which the winner will be chosen by the ‘first past the post’ system that is in vogue in India; the remaining 110 seats will be decided by a system of proportional representation. The seven provincial legislatures will together have 330 members; each of these Houses will have a different strength.
The Election Commission has expressed concern and frustration over the government’s inability to identify the perpetrators of the bomb attacks, and with its failure to provide an assurance that the situation would improve. Chief Election Commissioner Ayodhi Prasad has spoken to Prime Minister Deuba, who is also in charge of the Home portfolio, on several occasions. Almost coinciding with his last appeal to Deuba on Friday, moderate-intensity bombs went off in the compound of the PM’s private home in Budhaneelkantha on the outskirts of the capital, and at two other places. A policeman was killed in one of the attacks, and a candidate of the Nepali Congress sustained major injuries. Dozens of common people have been injured across the country.
Home Ministry sources said nearly 600 people, including two Indians, have been arrested along with explosives. A total 2,200 detonators, 600 gelatin sticks, and several pressure cooker bombs and other explosives have been seized, the sources said.
A large team of international observers, including a 123-member European delegation — the biggest ever to visit Nepal — along with various domestic networks, has been compiling details of alleged irregularities, expenditure beyond the specified ceiling, and government decisions that allegedly violate of the election code of conduct. “The EC must annul some decisions taken by the government regarding the announcement of public holidays, and on carrying out developmental works in certain areas,” Neilkanth Uprety, a former Chief Election Commissioner who is collaborating with foreign donors to observe the elections, said.
A group of Nepalese NGOs working on election expenditure has reported that more than Rs 5,000 is being spent on each voter, adding up to a total of Rs 15.4 million, by political parties and candidates — which works out to much more than the prescribed expenditure ceiling of Rs 25 lakh per candidate. The government recently promoted four senior police officials and transferred some civil servants; the CEC annulled the transfers, but ultimately allowed the promotions. The government has also declared holidays on Christmas and the birthdays of the Prophet Mohammad and the late king Prithvinarayan Shah, the architect and unifier of modern Nepal, with an eye on Christian, Muslim and nationalist votebanks.
There are multiple contests for all parliamentary seats. Former prime ministers Oli, Dahal, Madhav Nepal and Jhalnath Khanal, all from the Left Alliance, and Baburam Bhattarai, an independent backed by the Nepali Congress, are in the fray, as is the incumbent, Deuba, chairman of the Nepali Congress. The race is tight at most places, and almost all top leaders — barring Deuba, Dahal and Oli, who have been flying around the country in chartered helicopters, allegedly in defiance of the EC’s election expenditure ceiling — have been confined to their constituencies.
The EC has said it could take up to a month for all results, including at seats that will be decided by a system of proportional representation, to be announced. The federal parliament is scheduled to meet at the Birendra International Convention Hall, a world class convention centre built by the Chinese in the 90s on King Birendra’s request, there is no decision yet on where the seven provincial legislatures will meet.