March 30 through April 5, 2008
Here is the UPDATED list of Members of the Tibet Caucus as it now stands:
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (CA-46)
Rep. Neil Albercrombie (HI-01)
Rep. Maxine Waters (CA-35)
Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (MI-11)
Rep. Steve Chabot (OH-01)
Rep. Jim Walsh (NY-25)
Rep. Jim McGovern (MA-03)
Rep. Barbara Lee (CA-09
That's not to say the months of planning and millions of dollars will be a complete waste, but the vote probably won't herald the birth of a "New Nepal," as so many have hoped for after 10 years of civil war and half a decade of dubious democracy.
The challenges ahead include a guerilla group that hasn't fully removed its war paint, hardline militants bent on disrupting the polls and a complex election system that many don't understand.
Earlier this month, a secret document circulated among Nepal watchers, allegedly outlining how the former rebel Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) is going to steal the election.
"First of all, [Nepali] Congress should be swept away. . . . Hit on their morale; their fortress should be destroyed; they should not be allowed to move around; discourage them so that they completely lose the election," stated the bullet-pointed document, dated Feb. 26.
"Set up a district-wide intelligence network to find: who's who, who's where, what's he doing, how's he, what does he do on a daily basis, and what kind of role he will have until the election."
The document goes on to urge members of the Maoist youth wing, the Young Communist League (YCL), to collect homemade weapons and ensure that any deceased or absent voters miraculously manage to vote -- Maoist of course.
The language used and a reference to a meeting held in "YCL's food storehouse" suggests it did not come from the top brass of the party, but probably a YCL district leader. There is an outside chance the document is even an elaborate fake, designed to discredit the Maoists.
What gives it the ring of authenticity, however, is that it gives a fairly accurate description of what has come to pass in the first two weeks of election campaigning.
There have been daily clashes between the YCL and other political parties. The main targets have been the UML, the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist Leninist) -- which infuriated the Maoists by refusing to join them in what would have been a powerful "left front" -- and royalist parties.
To be fair, the Maoists aren't the only party making mischief.
They have been on the receiving end in several clashes with the UML. At an all-party meeting on March 24, Maoist chairman "Prachanda" claimed that seven of his cadre have been killed so far in the campaign period, although it's uncertain if their deaths were directly related to the election. Prachanda accused the media and the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) of being biased against the Maoists.
In a firmly worded report on the electoral environment, UNMIN singled out the Maoists for their intimidation and violence.
"The pattern of these incidents has raised serious questions about whether the CPN-M, or significant parts of it, are willing to engage in a genuinely free and fair democratic process," said the statement, in unusually direct language for the U.N.
The U.N. findings were echoed by Nepal's National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on March 25.
"We did not find the security situation satisfactory in any of the four regions which we visited recently," said Ram Nagina Singh, head of NHRC's election monitoring team. "Candidates, their cadres, voters and human rights activists have not been provided security."
On March 24, leaders of the Seven Party Alliance, plus the Maoists -- colorfully referred to as "SPAM" by some local media -- agreed to put an end to election-related violence, but only the next two weeks will tell if they are serious.
In the early hours of March 19, masked gunmen entered the home of Kamal Prasad Adhikari and shot him several times. Adhikari was a candidate for the Rastriya Janamorcha party in Banke district.
He later died in hospital and became the first candidate killed in the lead up to the elections.
The Jwala Singh faction of the Janatantric Terai Mukti Morcha (JTMM-JS) claimed responsibility for the murder and police later arrested two members.
JTMM-JS is one of around a dozen militant groups operating in Nepal's southern plains. Singh is a former Maoist, fighting for autonomy for the belt of land on Nepal's southern border with India, known as the Terai or Madhesh. Singh and four other armed groups have publicly threatened to disrupt the elections.
"In the past two weeks the activities of forces opposed to these agreements, particularly the armed groups, has intensified," said UNMIN in their March 22 report.
"There has been an upsurge of killings, violence, intimidation against candidates and voters and threats to disrupt the electoral process," UNMIN said.
The interim government has formally invited the agitating groups in the south to peace talks. The major militant groups expressed willingness for dialogue, but demanded U.N. mediation, a foreign venue and the release of their jailed fighters.
Getting the militants to renounce their pledges of violent interference would greatly increase the chances of a freer vote for around half of Nepal's population who live in the Terai.
Split System Baffles
Nepal's election on April 10 is not a parliamentary vote, even if it sounds that way on the hustings. It is a Constituent Assembly (CA) election, to vote in 575 members of a body that will rewrite the country's constitution and thereby, in theory, shape the "New Nepal." (A further 26 seats will be filled by the Prime Minister's nominees.)
Already there is talk amongst election experts of re-votes in troubled areas, perhaps to deal with outright ballot box capturing, blatant vote rigging or serious violence. It's unclear how long the re-votes might take.
But even when all votes are in, the CA's membership will be decided by a complicated dual system. About half the seats will be awarded under a first-past-the-post (FPTP) system using a blue ballot, and half by a proportional representation (PR) system on a red ballot.
These will be counted separately, in a process that could take up to two months, or maybe longer.
The FPTP ballots will be tallied first and the results announced. Several election experts have speculated that the Maoists will fare poorly in what is essentially a show of localized popularity and may object to these initial results.
Only once the FPTP tally is completely finished will the PR vote count start.
Depending on each party's performance across the country, they will be awarded seats in the CA. But parties must fulfill quotas designed to ensure fair representation to marginalized groups such as women, Madeshis and Dalits (members of so-called "untouchable" castes).
If all that sounds complicated, it's because it is.
An international organization recently conducted a mock poll, asking 40 people to vote using exact replicas of the planned ballots. About half the votes were invalid.
Nobody knows for sure how the votes will be split. The Maoists' true political popularity is untested, the Nepali Congress party's grassroots support may have withered, UML faces the distraction of attacks by Maoists, and the various Madheshi parties haven't yet managed to form a coalition.
Maoist leaders have been talking of a new revolution if they don't win the election. Party ideologue Babaram Bhattarai has said the movement would be peaceful and urbanized, but the rhetoric has raised concerns.
Despite the promise of a further revolution, Maoist leaders insist they will respect the people's wishes.
"We accepted to play the game," said C.P. Gajurel, a member of the Maoists Central Committee. "Whatever the result is we should accept it."
The CA election is not likely to be free and fair, but it might be considered good enough by a population tired of political bickering and struggling to get by in Nepal's lifeless economy.
The Constituent Assembly won't provide much of a peace dividend unless it can somehow find consensus among 601 politicians in drafting an inclusive constitution, deal with the thorny issue of the monarchy and work out what to do with the 31,000 Maoist fighters currently living in U.N.-supervised camps.
Liam Cochrane is a freelance journalist based in Katmandu, Nepal and a regular World Politics Review contributor.