8-14 November 2013 #680

The wages of sin

The criteria for electing a candidate has changed. This time, voters are asking: does he have blood on his hands?

The criteria for electing a candidate has changed. This time, voters are asking: does he have blood on his hands? The daily countdown from 10 has started for election day on 19 November. It is an election that is being presented as a panacea for getting the country moving forward again. But the people have been fooled too often to believe in cure-alls.

But despite all its flaws, this is an election that can offer the people’s verdict on a slew of issues. By turning out in larger-than-expected numbers, voters will be sending a message against those calling for a boycott. By voting out the discredited old faces who had many chances in the past and blew it, the people will show they want positive change. By casting their ballots for ‘weak’ women candidates that the Big Four have fielded so that their national leaders can win, the people can finally prove that you can’t fool all the people all the time. A strong showing by political parties that stand for democracy, pluralism, and non-violence will show that these are still the values that this country wants to be governed by. The election result will also give us an idea about the people’s preference for the kind of federalism and state structure they prefer. However, if the old politicians still win with huge majorities and honest candidates are trounced, it will mean that block voting, ballot-buying, intimidation, and cheating are still rife.

The people will send their strongest message, however, if they defeat those who espouse violence in politics. Despite their entry into the mainstream and the split in the party, the UCPN (M) has never formally abjured violence and continues to exploit the residual fear of physical reprisal to cow down opponents and extort people. Even though the EC on Wednesday rejected the nomination of convicted murderer Balkrishna Dhungel, other Maoist candidates accused of war crimes and many who continue to speak only the bullying language of threats are standing.

Then there are the parties of the Tarai that openly use quasi-militant groups who are in fact cross-border criminals with political protection. It may be too much to hope for, but a clean coercion-free election would see the exit of crooked candidates who need crooks to get to power and stay there.

The NC and UML, however much they’d like to portray themselves as the victims of Maoist violence and threats, have in the past used strong-arm tactics themselves whenever they have been in power. In fact, one of the reasons the Maoists went underground and took up arms against the government was because of state repression at election time in the 1990s against communist candidates in the mountains of mid-western Nepal. These habits die hard and they are using these tactics again in some places. The UML has the Youth Force on a leash and the NC its Tarun Dal. Both justify them as deterrence against the Maoist YCL. However, the physical assault by UML goons on a journalist who deigned to ask UML candidate Ishwar Pokhrel a question during an interaction last week and Pokhrel’s inability or unwillingness to reprimand cadre proved that even the Unified Marxist-Leninists are afflicted with vestigial violence.

Unlike the 2008 election when many Nepalis voted for the Maoists not because they liked them, but because it was a vote for peace, this time the people know that all the talk by erstwhile revolutionaries about liberating the people was just that: talk. Clinging to straws, the party has tried to use the ethnicity agenda to recruit voters much in the same way they used it to recruit cannon fodder for their war. Which is why the 2013 replay of the CA election will be one where the Maoists will be held accountable for the violence and brutality that they inflicted on the people in a war they waged in the people’s name. Nepali voters this time are not afraid to ask: what was it all for?

In two weeks, Nepalis will be voting for the candidate they think is most likely to deliver them better healthcare and education, create jobs, build roads, and not be too greedy while doing all that. And, oh yes, can we finally get a constitution that won’t make everything worse?

At the back of everyone’s mind, however, will be one thought: does this candidate have blood on his hands?