I am one of the 12,147,885 eligible, registered voters who have voted or are in the process to vote in today’s election in Nepal.
The second general election after the bloody Maoist conflict ended in 2006 will elect members of the country’s Constitution Assembly that will draft Nepal’s pending constitution writing process.
Following the end of the decade-long insurgency, the Maoists swept a popular victory in Nepal’s landmark election in 2008. It was supposedly a dawn of a “new Nepal” — the country’s 240-year-old monarchy was replaced by a republic status, the war had ended and Nepalis became more hopeful.
However, the years that followed made Nepalis frustrated with their elected members. Same old stories of corruption and inept leaders regained freshness. The deadline for the constitution writing process came to a dead-end, the Constitution Assembly was dissolved, a new election government under the country’s Chief Justice formed and today’s election date was decided.
As I walked to vote today, the streets looked deserted – vehicular movement has been stopped until midnight. But as I approached my designated polling booth, I could see people queuing — it was particularly good to see young people and the elderly walk to the polling station to elect their leaders.
“Aaunai paryo ni,” said a woman standing next to me in the women’s queue in the balmy morning sun. She said she had to come. While she wanted to exercise her right to vote, she didn’t seem enthusiastic about what difference the candidates would make.
As the Maoist party candidate from Kathmandu’s constituency 4, made rounds in the polling line at Ved Vidyashram, flashing a smile and saying Namaste with his palms clasped, people there, including me, returned the courtesy. But after he left, the same woman remarked: “Do you think he will remember us after the elections?”
After the Maoists came into mainstream politics and won by a majority, people had high hopes, but the party and its leaders failed to deliver.
Five governments – two of them headed by the Maoist party – have come and gone as politicians wrangled over the structure of the proposed new republic and how it should be governed.
Economic growth in Nepal, where nearly a quarter of its 27 million people live below the poverty line, has hovered around 3.5 percent over the past 10 years, much lower than the pace achieved by China and India on its doorstep, forcing many people to seek work abroad.
Much of the ire for the drift is directed against Prachanda, the 58-year-old Maoist revolutionary whose party, riding a wave of hope in a war-weary nation, won the largest number of seats in the first constituent assembly that also functioned as the parliament.
As Nepalis are voting today, along with enthusiasm, there is also some scepticism. With one of the Maoist faction (Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist) leading the 33 party alliance boycotting the election, the future of Nepal’s politics is far from any predictions, discussed a group of men in the line where I stood.
“No one is going to get a majority, the votes will divide and so will the country,” a man said.
“No party is going to get a simple majority even this time. It’s just going to be a repeat of 2008,” Surendra K.C., a Kathmandu-based independent political analyst, tells TIME. “Moreover the offshoot of the Maoist party, staying out of the elections, is going to be a problem. If this continues another Maoist insurgency cannot be ruled out.”
However, people are still in the mood to vote, to bring change. Reports in local media claim significant people have left capital Kathmandu to go vote in their districts.
I met a man last week at Nepalgunj airport who was waiting for his flight to Jumla in west Nepal. A development worker by profession, he said he had taken a two-day break from work to fly from Kathmandu just to vote. He had come to cast his ballot in the 2008 election, and he surely did want to exercise his rights this time too, he said.
I was headed to Jumla too, and so we talked about his village and the politics. He told me he had been in touch with his family and friends and been following Jumla’s politics and added it would be hard to predict who would win.
When I arrived at the main market square in Jumla, I saw cadres from Nepali Congress in full swing, but bystanders watching them and also discussing politics, seemed disillusioned. They said all they wanted was someone who would represent their problems and become their voice in the national politics.
In recent times, Nepalis seemed to have lost faith in their leaders, especially the elderly honchos who are deemed to be the foundation of the party’s ideologies. Out of utter frustration, a new breed of young leaders have sprouted or gained prominence lately. Young leaders like Gagan Thapa, whom a Facebook friend claimed to be Nepal’s Garack Thabama (referring his charismatic personality to US President Barack Obama), and Ujjwal Thapa, an activist turned politician this election season, have much dominated social media and young minds.
In 2012, when I spoke to Ujwal during a political activism demanding the constitution, he said he wanted to tap into the country’s young population and make them think and act, and not just talk.
From The Washington Post:
Highlighting the differences between the mainstream parties and his independent campaign, 36-year-old Ujwal Thapa said he is running to change his neighborhood and does not make big promises to voters.
“Not being able to fulfill their promises has given politicians a bad name,” said Thapa, who graduated from Bennington College in Vermont and has picked for his election symbol a dog, a term associated by many Nepalis with incapable politicians.
“We want to change the perception,” he said. “We want people to think our leaders should be like dogs — but loyal like dogs, honest like dogs and protector like dogs.”
In his article today, local English daily Republica’s editor-in-chief Kosmos Biswokarma writes that the country is in a “transformational stage” and by choosing the right candidates Nepalis have a choice to make the right change.
An editorial in the same newspaper states that “the road ahead is tricky,” but expresses hope meanwhile.
As we saw during the last CA, the longer the process drags on, the lesser the chance of meaningful compromise on important constitutional matters. Five, there must be discussion on important affairs within the CA halls. The whole assembly should be in a position to own up the final document; constitution making is not the prerogative of top leaders.
We still believe Nepalis are capable of charting their own future. What is needed is commitment to hold steadfast to one’s political ideals and to revisit and avoid past mistakes.
Another editorial in The Kathmandu Post resonates similar sentiments:
As Nepalis go to the ballot a second time, the political parties must take stock of their actions in the last CA. Public trust in the political parties was at a stratospheric high in 2008. Now, disenchantment is rife. But the fact that people have decided to give the parties a second chance displays the faith they still have in the parties.
As the poll stations close at 5 pm today, and the votes counted, we will be tracking the process and counting the days that could change the country’s future. We have seen the country go through a drastic political transition and have had expectations of equally drastic socio-economic and political transformations that would take the country forward. But time and again, our leaders have failed to live up to their promises making the path to progress still a remote thought.
With this election, people have given the leaders yet another chance to deliver everything — and even more — that they had failed previously. It’s now time for them to act wisely.