EVEN A BEGGAR WINS ELECTION IN NEPAL
by Chiranjibi Paudyal
American Reporter Correspondent
KATHMANDU, Nepal (from London), Feb. 1, 2005 -- Would there be an election without the participation of Democrats and Republicans? What would happen if those two parties boycotted polls in the United States? That's eactly what happened in Nepal over the past few weeks. Election are being held without the major parties that secured nearly 100 percent of the votes in the last election. And in at least one instance, that situation was the answer to a beggar's dream.
Nepal's leading newspaper, Kantipur, reported that Sita Devi Rauniyar, a beggar, has been elected unopposed as a member of the governing body for Rajbiraj Municipality. She has already obtained certificate from the election office.
"Now I will not have to beg," she said.
A driver and his wife, a sweeper working in a municipality office, a servant working in a government school have all filed their papwers to run for the post of mayor, deputy mayor and council members in municipal elections that are making a mockery of democracy in Nepal.
Nepal is in a prolonged crisis. A Maoist guerilla insurgency has sparked battles with police and soldiers that have claimed over 12,000 lives since 1996. The political parties and intellectual community are demanding establishment of democracy, but political activities are completely banned. The media is under heavy censorship, and many journalists have been murdered and jailed - more, in fact, than in any other country in the world. A curfew is imposed in many parts of the country.
Currently, there is no elected representative body anywhere in the country. Amid the political crisis, the king sacked the elected government and has directly ruled the country since February last year.
The newly christened politicians have not filed to run because of their interest in public office or to better serve the people of their communities, but were forced to become candidates as major political parties boycotted the polls and no politically or socially conscious persons turned out to be candidates for the municipal offices.
In response, the government mobilised officials and security forces to find candidates for the post of mayors, deputy mayors and council members. Mostly, however, their efforts were in vain. Then people were forced to file candidacy; some even learned that their names had been posted as candidates without their knowledge.
The seven major political parties, including the Nepali Congress and CPN, UML - the latter two are major parties that won more than 95 percent of the seats in the last election - said that the "election of municipalities under the direct rule of the king does not resolve problem and they cannot legitimise the rule of the king."
Who is going to participate in the polls, and for what purpose are the elections are being held, they ask, under an autocratic ruler who doesn't like elected government? Is not this a mockery of democracy?
Meanwhile, the candidates who were said to have filed to run for office are awaiting election day in army camps or under the protection of the security forces. There are neither election campaigns nor any politically-tinged publicity that does not originate with the monarchy. And voters don't actually know who the candidates for the posts of mayor, deputy mayor and coulcil members in their cities and towns are going to be. They are not allowed to attract publicity, and most remain unknown in their communities.
In most cases, between the boycott by the major political parties and threats from warring Maoists, no one was interested in being a candidate, and as a result there are very few now standing for the posts available. Despite the use of force and threats by King Gyanendra's security forces, papers have been filed in less than one-third of the total municipal seats.
And those who filed are not "politically and socially conscious," say major political parties.
"We have been successful to boycott the polls and convince people that the election under the dictatorial regime of the king is meaningless," said a spokesman for the Nepali Congress Party, Krishna Sitaula.
The lack of candidates for the election and the filing of candidacy by a handful of grievously unqualified people is in fact a tribute to the success of the major parties' boycott, he said.
Similar comments are heard from CPN/UML, the largest democratic Communist party of Nepal. "We cannot recognize the rule of the king by accepting election under his rule," said Pradip Nepal, spokesman of the CPN/UML party. Twenty-two mayors and 20 deputy mayors, some ward chairmen and ward members were elected unopposed in 22 municipalities.
But of 4,146 posts for representatives in 58 municipalities in 43 districts, no one filed nominations in 2,104 races. Out of 73 fringe pro-palace parties, only 25 parties are participating in the February 8 city elections, Tejmuni Bajracharya, spokesman of the election commission, is quoted as saying. All these parties, with the lone exception of the Nepal Sadbhavana Party, had never before been able to elect a single candidate.
The party closest to the King, the royalist Rastriya Prajatantra Party, has also boycotted the election. The party decided to boycott the election after the home minister, a member of the party, formed yet another party and claimed the party flag and election symbol from the government's election commission.
"These are the examples of misuse of state resources," said the president of the royalists' party, Pashupati Shumsher Rana, who is a relative of King Gyanendra. "There is no environment for the election and the problems of the country cannot be resolved without involving the major political parties," he said.
In wehat would seem an ominous development to most Westerrners, the seven major political parties that once held the vast majority of seats in the now-dissolved Nepalese parliament have formed an alliance to establish full-fledged democracy in the country.
In doing so, they have signed an understanding with Maoist guerillas - who have been fighting to end the King's autocratic rule for the last 10 years - to resolve the current political crisis and end the monarchy. For the first time, the Maoists, agreed to participate in elections and to allow both their own weapons and those of the Royal Nepalese Army to be managed by the United Nations or any reliable international organisation during the constituent assembly elections.
The parties and the Maoists have also agreed to form an interim government, including the latter in the cabinet, and to hold elections for the constituent assembly in order to write a new constitution.
The seven parties want the revival of Parliament, which was dissolved by the king three years ago, and plan to form an all-party government. The new constituent assembly would decide the ultimate fate of the monarchy, which has ruled the country for more than 235 years.
"The seven parties' alliance does not accept election under the direct rule of the king," said Girija Prasad Koirala, former prime minister and president of the Nepali Congress Party, the biggest democratic party of the country.
"We want the restoration of the House and to form an all-party government including the Maoists and hold election for the constituent assembly, the major demand of the rebels struggling since 1996," he said.
The Nepalese government deplored the agreement, however, and says that the problem of the country could be resolved through the elections announced by the king. The government's fear is that if there is an election for a constituent assembly, there will be overwhelming majority for democracy without a king. The younger generation of Nepalis is thought to want no monarchy, which they say is a hurdle to development and an obstacle to democracy.
"Monarchy is the root cause of the crisis plaguing the country. Therefore, for the country to come out of this crisis, a complete demolition of monarchy is a must. Only then is a solution possible," veteran student leader Gagan Thapa said.
The parties have been forced by the youths not to compromise with the King and continue to launch movement for full fledged democracy.
The king's takeover has further worsened the situation, plunging the nation into the mire of crisis after crisis. Despite the lack of candidates for the 58 municipalities in the Himalayan kingdom said to be the birthplace of Guatama Buddha, the king's government says the election will be held at any cost, which political analysts say is a prescription for a dire political situation that can strengthen his position.
Both the established parties and the international community have questioned the validity of the election, albeit to no avail. Even laymen understand that the election of sweepers and beggars does not help resolve the nation's many problems.
Some of those who said they did not know that they have filed to run for office are being forced by family members to withdraw; more than 500 withdrew their candidacy on January 26, the second day of the filing period.
Meanwhile, the parties, the Maoists, the general public and the international community say in one voice, "Engage in dialogue and restore democracy."
King Gyanendra's regime, though, wants elections even if there are few candidates and voters don't even know their names.
Longtime AR Correspondent Chiranjibi Paudyal, the former head of the Nepalese News Assn., was a fellow of the United States Information Agency's Visiting Journalists Program in 1999 who came to Hollywood under the auspices of the International Visitors Council of Los Angeles. After breaking many important stories in this publication, including several that warned of the imminent destruction of democracy in Nepal, Chiran was forced to flee to London, where he continues to write and report on Nepalese affairs.