Nepali Times Asian Paints
Lazy eye



NO COMMENT: Election observers were ordered not to interact with the press.

As voters patiently waited in line at Jawalakhel polling station, Laxman Singh Khadka, who calls himself the cleaner of Nepal, was speaking animatedly to a small crowd gathered outside the booths.

"Look at these foreign observers," he said, "what they see is only the surface, they don't know anything about our country."

Perhaps some of the foreign observers could be laid open to the charge of being parachutists. There are a few who just arrived on Tuesday and are due to fly out again on Friday morning.

For 2,100 polling stations around the country, there are more than 60,000 observers (of whom nearly 1,000 are foreign), but on election day there were moments when stations in the capital lacked the presence of even one observer.

"Three observers came and left very quickly," said a polling officer at Kumaripati.

Election observation in Lalitpur did not seem the most coordinated of operations.While the polling stations at Kumaripati, Satdobato and the Ashok Stupa had no observers present when Nepali Times visited, the one at Jawalakhel had seen observers from at least 10 organisations within a span of just three hours, including Jimmy Carter\'s entourage.

Two UN observers made a brief appearance at the station at about 7.30 AM to take some pictures and a short interview with polling officers. They declined to make any comments but told us that they were in a hurry to get to other stations.

One observer from the National Election Observation Committee said that she was allowed to choose one polling station to monitor from the three districts assigned to her. The number of stations to visit is up to the discretion of the observer.

While some, mostly international observers, were travelling in cars and jeeps, others had to do the rounds on foot. Rim Prasad Sharma and Kamal Kumar Neupane said they had a lot of stations to visit, and so couldn't stay for too long at each one.

In most cases, the observers would usually stay for up to half an hour. Some took notes and made video recordings inside the voting stations, whereas others preferred a more circumspect strategy, and peered in from outside.

Although they are not supposed to intervene in the process in any way, some gave this directive some leeway in the interpretation. At Jawalakhel, gentlemanly observers from a local NGO were leading the elderly and women with children to the front of the queue, which caused some confusion among polling officers.
At least in Lalitpur, there seemed to be no major mishaps. When asked how they thought the process was going, all the observers replied "no problems".

We can't say there weren't a few small hitches. At the Jawalakhel polling station, voting started 20 minutes late as officers were still having breakfast at 7AM. In several booths, more than one person was voting at once.

But Nepal is Nepal. This is the first election for nine years. And at least up till presstime on polling day events went much smoother than anticipated.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)