22-28 November 2013 #682

Sore losers

There will be no third chance for Nepal’s leaders to set things right
Trishna Rana
CRY BABIES: Speaking at a press conference on Thursday morning at party headquarters in Parisdanda, UCPN (M) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal said the elections were rigged and demanded a suspension of the vote count.
Just 48 hours after they turned up to polling booths in their largest numbers, Nepalis woke up on Thursday morning to the news of the UCPN (M) boycotting the vote count throughout the country and Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who lost in his Kathmandu-10 constituency, threatening a return to the streets if there is no re-evalution.

The move was not too startling coming from a party that has never played by the rules of democracy. But after dragging the country through a decade-long bloody war, the least the Maoists could have done was to respect the mandate of the citizens and wait for the final results before going around crying conspiracy.

Despite widespread apathy towards politics, 70 per cent of eligible voters showed up for elections because they were desperate for change and had to make 19 November count. The parties had spent five years in a constitution-writing process that met its unceremonious end in May last year with nothing to show for. The next 18 months were wasted on setting poll dates and then promptly postponing them on one pretext after another.

Along the way we were forced to compromise on accepting an unconstitutional interim government led by a sitting chief justice and backtracking on the size of the new CA and one per cent threshold for proportional representation, just to pull the country out of the prolonged crisis. The elections cost Rs 50 billion, not to mention the cost of supporting a 601-member CA for the next five years.

From their years in the jungle to their time in mainstream politics, the Maoists have not changed their spots. They are still blackmailing, bullying, and threatening opponents into submission. In the audio tape that was leaked two days before polls, Dahal at a close-door election meeting in Kirtipur goads cadres to use flattery, bribery, aggression, and polarisation, so that the party wins at any cost.

Unsurprisingly, Maoists were accused of attacking members of opposition parties and capturing polling booths in Dolakha-1 and Gorkha-1 where Baburam Bhattarai was running. Given the revelations of the Kirtipur tape, these were serious allegations that needed to be thoroughly investigated. Instead, the district election office dismissed them as ‘minor incidents’ and claimed that voting was fair, free, and peaceful.

Despite extensive electoral fraud, voter suppression, and use of violence during 2008 elections, the Maoists were given a clean chit by rival parties, the EC, and international observers because they were afraid to ‘derail’ the peace process. This time too, the party did everything in its power to skew the playing field in its favour and yet it is now on the verge of a crushing defeat.

Part of the loss can be accounted by the breakup of the party which split the Maoist vote and took away key candidates. The strike and acts of violence unleashed by Mohan Baidya’s hardline faction didn’t do Dahal and co any good either. The blood-splattered pavement and walls in Bhote Bahal where eight-year-old Samir Khadgi lost his arm were gruesome reminders of war years and drove away even the sympathetic voters from casting their ballot for the UCPN (M).

However, the low tally of votes for Maoist candidates was a way for Nepalis to tell their former leaders that enough is enough. In the past decade, the public has overlooked the loss of 16,000 lives, the plundering of funds meant for the upkeep of ex-guerrillas in the cantonments, and the dangerous political brinkmanship that Maoist politicians engaged in on the CA floor, all in the name of peace. But no more.

There is a lesson here for the winners as well. Victory over the Maoists does not mean the Nepali Congress and UML, which were also responsible for the failure of the past five years, can afford to become smug and complacent. There is a constitution to draft and many of the contentious issues that led to the dissolution of the previous CA remain largely unresolved. Future parliamentarians need to make more concessions than their predecessors and finish the job on time. There was a first CA, there were extensions to the deadline, but as the Nepali public has shown, there will be no third chances.

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