22-28 November 2013 #682

Voting in majority

From Mahottari to Morang, voters were openly receptive to elections and showed up in record numbers
Anurag Acharya and Navin Jha in BIRATNAGAR

MADE IT: A senior citizen arrives at his polling centre in Sunsari’s remote Chitaha VDC. The government’s restrictions on vehicle movement made it difficult for old and disabled voters to travel to their polling stations.
Twenty-five year olds Parbata Mormu and Phul Kumari Hembram walked out of their polling station in Morang ward no 9, elated at having cast their votes for the first time. The two women from the marginalised Santhal community were among thousands who had been left disenfranchised during the last CA elections. “I am very happy, I finally got to vote,” said Hembram with a grin.

After travelling from Mahottari in central Tarai to Morang in the east, through remote villages of Sarlahi, Dhanusha, Siraha, Saptari, and Sunsari districts, we were amazed by the level of anticipation among the locals. From tea shops to the buses we took, towns were abuzz with election fever. To be sure, those we met did express their frustration at the political stalemate and individual leaders, but said they would still cast their votes.

Jhagru Mahato, 56, has been selling tobacco in Malangwa bajar for the past 30 years. He has seen and heard promises made and broken every election. Yet, he seemed remarkably committed to his duty as a citizen. “Neta sab beimaan bha geli ta ki bhele, janta sab ke vote khasa ka apan kartab mein paacha nahi parat chahi,” he said. Three days after our conversation with Mahato, the Election Commission declared that Nepal witnessed a historical turnout of more than 70 per cent and Sarlahi district was not far behind.

In the last CA elections, there were at least a dozen reported incidences of violence on the day of polls in Sarlahi, but this time only two incidents were reported. “We have received complaints of violence and fraud in Dhankaul and Balara area and have sent our report to the EC,” Chief District Election Officer Krishna Kamal Adhikari told us over telephone from Malangwa.

Travelling deep into Sunsari district, we came across well-organised and peaceful polling stations in Tanmuna, Bhaluwa, and Chitaha VDCs of constituency-3. Enthusiastic voters – young and old – queued outside booths in large numbers in this ‘sensitive’ locality which was under heavy army and police security the whole day. President of the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (Democratic) Bijaya Kumar Gachchhadar and Bhagwati Chaudhary of the UML had fought fiercely during campaigning in this constituency of 10,000 voters.

There were reports of booth capturing in Siraha-5, where high profile candidates UCPN (M) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal and UML’s Lila Shrestha were contesting. However, the rumours were refuted by Purna Chandra Joshi, the district superintendent of police. A local journalist also said he was unaware of any problematic incident. A few days ago, however, the UCPN (M) was violating election codes by distributing free petrol to hundreds of motorcyclists during a mass meeting in Siraha bajar addressed by Dahal.

The central and eastern Tarai belt has always been a hotbed of Nepali politics. It was the flash point of the Madhes movement in 2007-2008 and in the following years, the region has seen a resurgence of armed groups. But on Tuesday, hundreds of thousands made their way to polling centres in what was one of the most peaceful elections of our times.

As the preliminary results begin to trickle in, celebrations have begun in some camps. But whichever party or candidate wins the race this time, it will be a collective victory for the Nepali people and the democracy they have fought so dearly for.

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