22-28 November 2013 #682

Making it count

Nepalis have voted and in what numbers. After ballot boxes were sealed at 5pm on Tuesday, the Election Commission announced that more than 70 per cent of eligible voters had shown up, a record high in the country’s history.

OLD IS GOLD: A senior citizen casts her ballot at a polling centre in Bhaktapur.

FOOTING IT: A family walks from their home in Patan to the ballot station in Basantapur.

In Dagnam, Myagdi, all voters showed up, whereas it was a no show at a booth in Thawang, Rolpa. Polling was halted in two election centres in Jumla because CPN-M cadres seized PR ballot papers. They will have re-elections on Friday.

But it’s safe to say we weren’t this sure about CA-II polls even a month ago. Jaded by the last five years of shameless politicking, double-speak, and the failure to write a constitution, Nepalis were as disillusioned this year as they seemed steadfast in 2008. Regardless, 50 per cent voters turned out by midday.

LONG LINE: Women await their turn to vote at Paknajol, Kathmandu-7.

HIGH ALERT: The Nepal Army patrolling around Thamel.

This year’s elections also faced, ever since it was conceived, the danger of secluding a political force from democratic practice. Despite its repeated attempts to distance itself from the violence meted out on innocent travellers, including children, on election eve and day, the CPN-M knows its reputation and number of sympathisers, have taken a deep blow.

Eight-year-old Samir Khadgi was playing with friends on Tuesday when he picked up a bomb after mistaking it for a toy. He lost his right hand and suffered injuries to his head. In Satungal, dash Maoists threw a petrol bomb at a bus heading to Rautahat injuring many, among them five-year-old Prajun Khatun. Manju Shrestha, also five, was inside a microbus in Samakhusi when the vehicle was set on fire.

CRIME SCENE: A bomb was planted approximately 200 metres from a polling booth in Bhote Bahal. Eight-year-old Samir Khadgi mistook the bomb for a toy and lost his right hand as a result.

N ANGUISH: Sister (left) and mother (right) of Samir Khadgi are seen here after the boy was taken to Bir Hospital for treatment. Two others were injured in the blast.

Police have repeatedly said that they have enough evidence to prosecute the guilty, but the state is too busy counting ballots at the moment to pay attention to this. Any decision taken now will in all likelihood be covered up by whichever party or alliance leads the next government.

The latest preliminaries show that the Nepali Congress and UML lead in more than two-thirds of the constituencies in the FPTP race. As we go to press, both parties have won fourteen seats each, while the biggest winner from the previous elections, UCPN (M), has claimed only two. And in an embarrassing turn of events for the Maoists, its Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal was defeated by the NC’s Rajendra KC in Kathmandu-10 by a margin of more than 7,000 votes.

To save face, the UCPN (M) demanded a total recount on Thursday morning, saying “all kinds of fraud and conspiracies had prevented the true will of the people from being reflected in the results.” After the EC refused to budge, Dahal is threatening that his party will sit out of the Constituent Assembly if the vote count is not investigated by an independent body. Meanwhile, with mounting accusations of electoral fraud and voter suppression in Gorkha-1, senior leader Baburam Bhattarai, took to Facebook to categorically dismiss these claims.

MAKE WAY: Ballot boxes are transported from Basantapur to the Birendra International Convention Centre in Baneswor for counting.

DAY AND NIGHT: Officials from the EC start counting votes from 8am onwards on Wednesday.

Bhattarai is not the only one having to defend the actions of his cadres though. As Anurag Acharya and Navin Jha reported from east Nepal, locals are alleging the NC of booth capture in Sarlahi-6.

On Thursday afternoon, the EU released a statement saying the right to vote was secure in 97 per cent of the polling booths they had monitored and that the elections were peaceful and participation. The Carter Centre soon followed claiming the election environment was far improved than what it was five years ago.

WE DID IT: NC cadres celebrate Rajendra KC’s victory in Kathmandu-10 outside the BICC on Thursday.

A total of 12,147,865 Nepalis were registered to vote this time round. 6,128 candidates are in the FPTP race for 240 seats in the assembly. The remaining 335 seats will be picked from 10,709 candidates in the PR list and 26 will be nominated. A total of 128 parties took part.

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