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A carnival like elections

Thursday, June 29th, 2017
Pic: Bachu BK

Pic: Bachu BK

Bachu BK in Dadeldhura

Here in Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba’s home district, people were unsure whether they would really get to vote on 28 June. Deuba had twice postponed polls during his previous tenures, and he had also deferred polls announced by his predecessor. So when it finally happened this week, people looked euphoric. Polling on Wednesday wore a festive look.

Bir Bahadur Deuba, 76, shaved his beard and wore his best daura-suruwal as he walked to the polling booth. “Never have I missed an election,” he said. “I am happy to vote again.”

The septuagenarian who introduced himself as the PM’s distant uncle added: “Sher Bahadur always wants to do something good, but ends up doing the wrong thing. I trusted him when he said he wanted to hold elections, but I was afraid he might end up calling it off once again.”

The uncertainty was not just confined to Dadeldhura, but was felt throughout Province 5. Rumours swirled did a few days ago that their prime minister in Kathmandu might suddenly postpone polls, fearing a poor showing by his party due to internal disputes in the district. But the PM spent a week in Dadeldhura, solving intra-party wrangles and instilling confidence in people that elections would happen.

Voters walked miles to reach polling stations, braving monsoon rains and postponing rice planting. “I can plant paddy later, but I can’t vote whenever I want,” said Ram Samajh Chaudhary, who cast his vote in Kailali in the plains.
In Tikapur of Kailali, Tharu protesters in 2015 lynched eight policemen and shot one child dead during a violent protest against the ruling parties’ decision to graft the district onto Province 7. Tharus wanted the two Far-western plains districts of Kailali and Kanchanpur in a separate province. The Tikapur tragedy poisoned relations between Tharus and hill settlers, but now people of both communities have come together to elect local councillors.

One of the factors that helped reconciliation between the two communities was the space given to Tharus by political parties dominated by hill settlers. As many as 28 Tharu candidates were fielded by various parties for mayor/village chief and deputy mayor/village deputy In Kailali and Kanchanpur, where they constitute roughly 40% of the population. Tharu voters therefore turned out in huge numbers.

As in the first phase, there were a significant number of Dalit and women candidates. In the remote Far-western hills of Baitadi, where discrimination against Dalits is entrenched, Naresh BK, a mayoral candidate for the UML, said: “Finally, so-called high-caste people are seeing us Dalits as people.”

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